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Chapter 12


CHAPTER IV - THE PASSAGE


The passage in which Dick and Joanna now found themselves was
narrow, dirty, and short.  At the other end of it, a door stood
partly open; the same door, without doubt, that they had heard the
man unlocking.  Heavy cobwebs hung from the roof; and the paved
flooring echoed hollow under the lightest tread.

Beyond the door there were two branches, at right angles.  Dick
chose one of them at random, and the pair hurried, with echoing
footsteps, along the hollow of the chapel roof.  The top of the
arched ceiling rose like a whale's back in the dim glimmer of the
lamp.  Here and there were spyholes, concealed, on the other side,
by the carving of the cornice; and looking down through one of
these, Dick saw the paved floor of the chapel - the altar, with its
burning tapers - and stretched before it on the steps, the figure
of Sir Oliver praying with uplifted hands.

At the other end, they descended a few steps.  The passage grew
narrower; the wall upon one hand was now of wood; the noise of
people talking, and a faint flickering of lights, came through the
interstices; and presently they came to a round hole about the size
of a man's eye, and Dick, looking down through it, beheld the
interior of the hall, and some half a dozen men sitting, in their
jacks, about the table, drinking deep and demolishing a venison
pie.  These were certainly some of the late arrivals.

"Here is no help," said Dick.  "Let us try back."

"Nay," said Joanna; "maybe the passage goeth farther."

And she pushed on.  But a few yards farther the passage ended at
the top of a short flight of steps; and it became plain that, as
long as the soldiers occupied the hall, escape was impossible upon
that side.

They retraced their steps with all imaginable speed, and set
forward to explore the other branch.  It was exceedingly narrow,
scarce wide enough for a large man; and it led them continually up
and down by little break-neck stairs, until even Dick had lost all
notion of his whereabouts.

At length it grew both narrower and lower; the stairs continued to
descend; the walls on either hand became damp and slimy to the
touch; and far in front of them they heard the squeaking and
scuttling of the rats.

"We must be in the dungeons," Dick remarked.

"And still there is no outlet," added Joanna.

"Nay, but an outlet there must be!" Dick answered.  Presently, sure
enough, they came to a sharp angle, and then the passage ended in a
flight of steps.  On the top of that there was a solid flag of
stone by way of trap, and to this they both set their backs.  It
was immovable.  "Some one holdeth it," suggested Joanna.

"Not so," said Dick; "for were a man strong as ten, he must still
yield a little.  But this resisteth like dead rock.  There is a
weight upon the trap.  Here is no issue; and, by my sooth, good
Jack, we are here as fairly prisoners as though the gyves were on
our ankle bones.  Sit ye then down, and let us talk.  After a while
we shall return, when perchance they shall be less carefully upon
their guard; and, who knoweth? we may break out and stand a chance.
But, in my poor opinion, we are as good as shent."

"Dick!" she cried, "alas the day that ever ye should have seen me!
For like a most unhappy and unthankful maid, it is I have led you
hither."

"What cheer!" returned Dick.  "It was all written, and that which
is written, willy nilly, cometh still to pass.  But tell me a
little what manner of a maid ye are, and how ye came into Sir
Daniel's hands; that will do better than to bemoan yourself,
whether for your sake or mine."

"I am an orphan, like yourself, of father and mother," said Joanna;
"and for my great misfortune, Dick, and hitherto for yours, I am a
rich marriage.  My Lord Foxham had me to ward; yet it appears Sir
Daniel bought the marriage of me from the king, and a right dear
price he paid for it.  So here was I, poor babe, with two great and
rich men fighting which should marry me, and I still at nurse!
Well, then the world changed, and there was a new chancellor, and
Sir Daniel bought the warding of me over the Lord Foxham's head.
And then the world changed again, and Lord Foxham bought my
marriage over Sir Daniel's; and from then to now it went on ill
betwixt the two of them.  But still Lord Foxham kept me in his
hands, and was a good lord to me.  And at last I was to be married
- or sold, if ye like it better.  Five hundred pounds Lord Foxham
was to get for me.  Hamley was the groom's name, and to-morrow,
Dick, of all days in the year, was I to be betrothed.  Had it not
come to Sir Daniel, I had been wedded, sure - and never seen thee,
Dick - dear Dick!"

And here she took his hand, and kissed it, with the prettiest
grace; and Dick drew her hand to him and did the like.

"Well," she went on, "Sir Daniel took me unawares in the garden,
and made me dress in these men's clothes, which is a deadly sin for
a woman; and, besides, they fit me not.  He rode with me to
Kettley, as ye saw, telling me I was to marry you; but I, in my
heart, made sure I would marry Hamley in his teeth."

"Ay!" cried Dick, "and so ye loved this Hamley!"

"Nay," replied Joanna, "not I.  I did but hate Sir Daniel.  And
then, Dick, ye helped me, and ye were right kind, and very bold,
and my heart turned towards you in mine own despite; and now, if we
can in any way compass it, I would marry you with right goodwill.
And if, by cruel destiny, it may not be, still ye'll be dear to me.
While my heart beats, it'll be true to you."

"And I," said Dick, "that never cared a straw for any manner of
woman until now, I took to you when I thought ye were a boy.  I had
a pity to you, and knew not why.  When I would have belted you, the
hand failed me.  But when ye owned ye were a maid, Jack - for still
I will call you Jack - I made sure ye were the maid for me.  Hark!"
he said, breaking off - "one cometh."

And indeed a heavy tread was now audible in the echoing passage,
and the rats again fled in armies.

Dick reconnoitred his position.  The sudden turn gave him a post of
vantage.  He could thus shoot in safety from the cover of the wall.
But it was plain the light was too near him, and, running some way
forward, he set down the lamp in the middle of the passage, and
then returned to watch.

Presently, at the far end of the passage, Bennet hove in sight.  He
seemed to be alone, and he carried in his hand a burning torch,
which made him the better mark.

"Stand, Bennet!" cried Dick.  "Another step, and y' are dead."

"So here ye are," returned Hatch, peering forward into the
darkness.  "I see you not.  Aha! y' 'ave done wisely, Dick; y' 'ave
put your lamp before you.  By my sooth, but, though it was done to
shoot my own knave body, I do rejoice to see ye profit of my
lessons!  And now, what make ye? what seek ye here?  Why would ye
shoot upon an old, kind friend?  And have ye the young gentlewoman
there?"

"Nay, Bennet, it is I should question and you answer," replied
Dick.  "Why am I in this jeopardy of my life?  Why do men come
privily to slay me in my bed?  Why am I now fleeing in mine own
guardian's strong house, and from the friends that I have lived
among and never injured?"

"Master Dick, Master Dick," said Bennet, "what told I you?  Y' are
brave, but the most uncrafty lad that I can think upon!"

"Well," returned Dick, "I see ye know all, and that I am doomed
indeed.  It is well.  Here, where I am, I stay.  Let Sir Daniel get
me out if he be able!"

Hatch was silent for a space.

"Hark ye," he began, "return to Sir Daniel, to tell him where ye
are, and how posted; for, in truth, it was to that end he sent me.
But you, if ye are no fool, had best be gone ere I return."

"Begone!" repeated Dick.  "I would be gone already, an' I wist how.
I cannot move the trap."

"Put me your hand into the corner, and see what ye find there,"
replied Bennet.  "Throgmorton's rope is still in the brown chamber.
Fare ye well."

And Hatch, turning upon his heel, disappeared again into the
windings of the passage.

Dick instantly returned for his lamp, and proceeded to act upon the
hint.  At one corner of the trap there was a deep cavity in the
wall.  Pushing his arm into the aperture, Dick found an iron bar,
which he thrust vigorously upwards.  There followed a snapping
noise, and the slab of stone instantly started in its bed.

They were free of the passage.  A little exercise of strength
easily raised the trap; and they came forth into a vaulted chamber,
opening on one hand upon the court, where one or two fellows, with
bare arms, were rubbing down the horses of the last arrivals.  A
torch or two, each stuck in an iron ring against the wall,
changefully lit up the scene.


Robert Louis Stevenson