ページの画像
PDF
ePub

libel. The inquisition had, to some extent, infected all Europe with its system ; and its police practice was taken as a guide. A monstrous attempt against all rights was possible in England. We have only to recall the Gazetier Cuirassé. In the midst of the eighteenth century, Louis XV, had writers whose works displeased him arrested in Piccadilly. It is true that George II. laid his hands on the Pretender in France, right in the middle of the hall at the opera. Those were two long arms! that of the King of France reaching London ; that of the King of England, Paris ! Such was liberty!

We may add, that they were fond of putting folk to death privately in prisons. Jugglery mingled with capital punishment; a hideous expedient to which England is reverting at the present moment, thus giving to the world the strange spectacle of a great people, which, in its desire of taking the better part, chooses the worse ; and which, having before it the past on one side and progress on the other, mistakes the right side and takes night for day.

CHAPTER IV.

URSUS SPIES THE POLICE.

As we have already said, according to the very severe laws of the police of those days, the summons to follow the wapentake addressed to an individual, implied to all other persons present the command not to stir.

Some curious persons, however, were stubborn, and accompanied at a distance the cortege which had taken Gwynplaine into custody.

Ursus was of them. Ursus had been as much petrified as any one has a right to be. But Ursus, so often assailed by the surprises incident to a wandering life, and by the malice of chance, was, like a ship-of-war, prepared for action, and could call to the post of danger all his crew-that is to say, all the aid of his intelligence.

He Aung off his stupor, and began to think. He strove not to give way to emotion, but to stand face to face with circumstances.

To look fortune in the face, is the duty of everyone not an idiot; to seek,-not to understand, but to act.

Presently he asked himself. What could he do?

Gwynplaine taken away, Ursus was placed between two terrorsa fear for Gwynplaine, which instigated him to follow ; and a fear for himself, which urged him to remain where he was.

Ursus had the intrepidity of a fly, and the impassibility of a

sensitive plant. His agitation was not to be described. However, he took his resolution heroically, and decided to brave the law, and to follow the wapentake, so anxious was he concerning the fate of Gwynplaine.

His terror must have been great to prompt so much courage.
To what valiant acts will not fear drive a hare?

The chamois in despair jumps a precipice. To be terrified into imprudence is one of the forms of fear.

Gwynplaine had been carried off rather than arrested. The operation of the police had been executed so rapidly that the fair-field, generally little frequented at that hour in the morning, had scarcely taken cognizance of the circumstance.

Scarcely any one in the caravans had any idea that the wapentake had come to take Gwynplaine. Hence the smallness of the crowd.

Gwynplaine, thanks to his mantle and his hat, which nearly concealed his face, could not be recognised by the passers-by.

Before he went out to follow Gwynplaine, Ursus took a precaution. He spoke to Master Nicless, to the boy Govicum, and to Fibi and Vinos, and insisted on their keeping absolute silence before Dea, who was ignorant of everything. That they should not utter a syllable that could make her suspect what had occurred; that they should make her understand that the cares of the management of the Green Box necessitated the absence of Gwynplaine and Ursus; that, besides, it would soon be the time of her daily sleep, and that before she awoke he and Gwynplaine would have returned ; that all which had taken place had arisen from a mistake; that it would be very easy for Gwynplaine and himself to clear themselves before the magistrate and police; that a touch of the finger would put the matter straight, after which they should both return; above all, that no one should say a word on the subject to Dea. This advice given, he departed.

Ursus was able to follow Gwynplaine without being remarked. Though he kept at the greatest possible distance, he so managed as not to lose sight of him. Boldness in ambuscade is the bravery of the timid.

After all, notwithstanding the solemnity of the attendant circumstances, Gwynplaine might have been summoned before the magis trate for some unimportant infraction of the law.

Ursus assured himself that the question would be decided at once.

The solution of the mystery was to be made under his very eyes by the direction taken by the cortege which took Gwynplaine from Tar

VOL. IV., N. S. 1870.

T

We

rinzeau Field when it reached the entrance of the lanes of the Little Strand.

If it turned to the left, it would conduct Gwynplaine to the justice hall in Southwark. In that case there would be little to fear : some trifling municipal offence, an admonition from the magistrate, two or three shillings to pay, then Gwynplaine would be set at liberty, and the representation of “Chaos Vanquished" would take place that same evening as usual. In such case no one would find out anything unusual.

If the cortége turned to the right, matters would be serious.
There were frightful places in that direction.

At the instant that the wapentake, leading the file of soldiers between whom Gwynplaine walked, had arrived at the small streets, Ursus, panting, watched them. Moments exist when a man's whole being passes into his eyes.

Which way were they about to turn ?
They turned to the right.

Ursus, staggering with terror, leant against a wall that he might not fall.

There is no hypocrisy so great as the words that we say to ourselves, I wish to know the worst !At heart, we do not wish it at all. have a dreadful fear lest we should know it. Agony is mingled with a dim effort not to see the end. We do not own this to ourselves. We would draw back if we dared ; and when we have advanced, we reproach ourselves for having done so.

Thus did Ursus. He shuddered as he thought,

“ Here are things going wrong. I should have found it out soon enough. What business had I to follow Gwynplaine ?”

Having made this reflection, as man is but a contradiction, he redoubled his pace, and, mastering his anxiety, he hastened to get nearer the troop, so as not to break, in the maze of small streets, the thread between Gwynplaine and himself.

The cortege of police could not move quickly, on account of the solemnity of their pace.

The wapentake led it.
The justice of the quorum closed it.
This order compelled a certain deliberation of movement.

All the majesty possible in an official shone in the justice of the quorum. His costume held a middle place between the splendid robe of a doctor of music at Oxford, and the sober, black habiliments of a doctor of divinity at Cambridge. He wore the dress of a gentleman under a long godebert, which is a mantle trimmed with the fur

of the Norwegian hare. He was half gothic and half modern, wearing a wig like Lamoignon, and sleeves like Tristan L'Hermite. His large, round eye watched Gwynplaine with the fixedness of an owl's.

He walked with a cadence. Never did honest man look fiercer.

Ursus, for a moment thrown out of his way in the tangled skein of streets, overtook, close to Saint Mary Overy, the cortége, which, fortunately, had been retarded in the churchyard by a battery of children and dogs, a common incident in the streets in those days.

Dogs and boys," say the old police registers, which place the dogs before the boys. A man, being taken before a magistrate by the police, was, after all, an every day affair, and each one having his own business to attend to, the small crowd which had followed soon dispersed. There remained but Ursus on the track of Gwynplaine.

They passed before the two chapels which were face to face, one belonging to the Recreative Religionists, and the other to the Hallelujah League, sects which flourished then, and still exist at the present day.

Then the cortége wound from street to street, making a zig-zag, choosing by preference lanes not yet built on, roads where the grass grew, and deserted alleys.

At length it stopped.

It was in a small street, no houses except two or three hovels. This narrow alley was composed of two walls, one on the left, low; the other on the right, high. The high wall was black, and built in the Saxon style with narrow holes, scorpions, and large square gratings over narrow loop-holes. There was no window on it, but here and there slits, which were the old embrasures of pierriers and archegayes. At the foot of this high wall was seen, something like the hole at the bottom of a rat trap, a little wicket gate, very elliptical in its arch.

This small door, encased in a full, heavy girding of stone, had a grated peep-hole, a heavy knocker, a large bolt, hinges thick and knotted, a bristling of nails, an armour of plates, and hinges, which made it more of iron than of wood.

There was no one in the lane. No shops, no passengers; but in it there was heard a continual noise, as if the lane ran parallel to a torrent. It was a tumult of voices and of carriages. It seemed that on the other side of the black edifice there must be a great street, without doubt the principal street of Southwark, which ran at one end into the Canterbury road, and at the other on to London Bridge.

All the length of the street, any one watching outside the cortége which surrounded Gwyn plaine would have seen no other human

face than the pale profile of Ursus hazarding a half advance from the shadow of the corner of the wall, looking, and fearing to see. He had posted himself behind the wall at a turn of the lane.

The troop of constables grouped themselves before the wicket. Gwynplaine was in the centre, having behind him the wapentake and his baton of iron.

The justice of the quorum raised the knocker, and struck the door three times. The loophole opened.

The justice of the quorum said, “By order of Her Majesty."

The heavy door of oak and iron turned on its hinges, making a chilly opening, like the mouth of a cavern. A hideous depth yawned in the shadow.

Ursus saw Gwynplaine disappear within it.

CHAPTER V.

A FEARFUL PLACE.

THE wapentake entered after Gwynplaine.
Then the justice of the quorum.
Then the whole troop.
The wicket was closed

The heavy door swung to, closing hermetically on the stone sills, without any one seeing who had opened or shut it. It seemed as if the bolts re-entered their sockets by their own act. Some of these mechanisms, invented by antique intimidation, still exist in old prisons; doors of which you saw no doorkeeper. They looked like a cross between the entrance to a prison and the entrance to a tomb.

This wicket was the lower door of Southwark Jail.

There was nothing in the harsh and worm-eaten aspect of this prison to soften its appropriate air of rigour.

It was a pagan temple, built by the Catieuchlans for the Mogous, the ancient English gods, became a palace for Ethelwolfe, and a fortress for Edward the Confessor; then it was elevated to the dignity of a prison, in 1199, by John Lackland. It was Southwark Jail. This jail, at first crossed by a street, as Chenonceaux is by a river, had been for a century or two a gate ; that is to say, the gate of the suburb; after which the passage had been walled up. There remain in England some prisons of this nature. In London, Newgate ; at Canterbury, Westgate; at Edinburgh, Canongate. France the Bastile was originally a gate.

« 前へ次へ »