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Sun and Shadow
Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day.
A blazing sun upon a fierce August day was no greater rarity in
southern France then, than at any other time, before or since.
Everything in Marseilles, and about Marseilles, had stared at the
fervid sky, and been stared at in return, until a staring habit had
become universal there. Strangers were stared out of countenance
by staring white houses, staring white walls, staring white
streets, staring tracts of arid road, staring hills from which
verdure was burnt away. The only things to be seen not fixedly
staring and glaring were the vines drooping under their load of
grapes. These did occasionally wink a little, as the hot air
barely moved their faint leaves.
There was no wind to make a ripple on the foul water within the
harbour, or on the beautiful sea without. The line of demarcation
between the two colours, black and blue, showed the point which the
pure sea would not pass; but it lay as quiet as the abominable
pool, with which it never mixed. Boats without awnings were too
hot to touch; ships blistered at their moorings; the stones of the
quays had not cooled, night or day, for months. Hindoos, Russians,
Chinese, Spaniards, Portuguese, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Genoese,
Neapolitans, Venetians, Greeks, Turks, descendants from all the
builders of Babel, come to trade at Marseilles, sought the shade
alike--taking refuge in any hiding-place from a sea too intensely
blue to be looked at, and a sky of purple, set with one great
flaming jewel of fire.
The universal stare made the eyes ache. Towards the distant line
of Italian coast, indeed, it was a little relieved by light clouds
of mist, slowly rising from the evaporation of the sea, but it
softened nowhere else. Far away the staring roads, deep in dust,
stared from the hill-side, stared from the hollow, stared from the
interminable plain. Far away the dusty vines overhanging wayside
cottages, and the monotonous wayside avenues of parched trees
without shade, drooped beneath the stare of earth and sky. So did
the horses with drowsy bells, in long files of carts, creeping
slowly towards the interior; so did their recumbent drivers, when
they were awake, which rarely happened; so did the exhausted
labourers in the fields. Everything that lived or grew, was
oppressed by the glare; except the lizard, passing swiftly over
rough stone walls, and the cicala, chirping his dry hot chirp, like
a rattle. The very dust was scorched brown, and something quivered
in the atmosphere as if the air itself were panting.
Blinds, shutters, curtains, awnings, were all closed and drawn to
keep out the stare. Grant it but a chink or keyhole, and it shot
in like a white-hot arrow. The churches were the freest from it.
To come out of the twilight of pillars and arches--dreamily dotted
with winking lamps, dreamily peopled with ugly old shadows piously
dozing, spitting, and begging--was to plunge into a fiery river,
and swim for life to the nearest strip of shade. So, with people
lounging and lying wherever shade was, with but little hum of
tongues or barking of dogs, with occasional jangling of discordant
church bells and rattling of vicious drums, Marseilles, a fact to
be strongly smelt and tasted, lay broiling in the sun one day.
In Marseilles that day there was a villainous prison. In one of
its chambers, so repulsive a place that even the obtrusive stare
blinked at it, and left it to such refuse of reflected light as it
could find for itself, were two men. Besides the two men, a
notched and disfigured bench, immovable from the wall, with a
draught-board rudely hacked upon it with a knife, a set of
draughts, made of old buttons and soup bones, a set of dominoes,
two mats, and two or three wine bottles. That was all the chamber
held, exclusive of rats and other unseen vermin, in addition to the
seen vermin, the two men.
It received such light as it got through a grating of iron bars
fashioned like a pretty large window, by means of which it could be
always inspected from the gloomy staircase on which the grating
gave. There was a broad strong ledge of stone to this grating
the bottom of it was let into the masonry, three or four feet above
the ground. Upon it, one of the two men lolled, half sitting and
half lying, with his knees drawn up, and his feet and shoulders
planted against the opposite sides of the aperture. The bars were
wide enough apart to admit of his thrusting his arm through to the
elbow; and so he held on negligently, for his greater ease.
A prison taint was on everything there. The imprisoned air, the
imprisoned light, the imprisoned damps, the imprisoned men, were
all deteriorated by confinement. As the captive men were faded and
haggard, so the iron was rusty, the stone was slimy, the wood was
rotten, the air was faint, the light was dim. Like a well, like a
vault, like a tomb, the prison had no knowledge of the brightness
outside, and would have kept its polluted atmosphere intact in one
of the spice islands of the Indian ocean.
The man who lay on the ledge of the grating was even chilled. He
jerked his great cloak more heavily upon him by an impatient
movement of one shoulder, and growled, 'To the devil with this
Brigand of a Sun that never shines in here!'
He was waiting to be fed, looking sideways through the bars that he
might see the further down the stairs, with much of the expression
of a wild beast in similar expectation. But his eyes, too close
together, were not so nobly set in his head as those of the king of
beasts are in his, and they were sharp rather than bright--pointed
weapons with little surface to betray them. They had no depth or
change; they glittered, and they opened and shut. So far, and
waiving their use to himself, a clockmaker could have made a better
pair. He had a hook nose, handsome after its kind, but too high
between the eyes by probably just as much as his eyes were too near
to one another. For the rest, he was large and tall in frame, had
thin lips, where his thick moustache showed them at all, and a
quantity of dry hair, of no definable colour, in its shaggy state,
but shot with red. The hand with which he held the grating (seamed
all over the back with ugly scratches newly healed), was unusually
small and plump; would have been unusually white but for the prison
The other man was lying on the stone floor, covered with a coarse
'Get up, pig!' growled the first. 'Don't sleep when I am hungry.'
'It's all one, master,' said the pig, in a submissive manner, and
not without cheerfulness; 'I can wake when I will, I can sleep when
I will. It's all the same.'
As he said it, he rose, shook himself, scratched himself, tied his
brown coat loosely round his neck by the sleeves (he had previously
used it as a coverlet), and sat down upon the pavement yawning,
with his back against the wall opposite to the grating.
'Say what the hour is,' grumbled the first man.
'The mid-day bells will ring--in forty minutes.' When he made the
little pause, he had looked round the prison-room, as if for
'You are a clock. How is it that you always know?'
'How can I say? I always know what the hour is, and where I am.
I was brought in here at night, and out of a boat, but I know where
I am. See here! Marseilles harbour;' on his knees on the
pavement, mapping it all out with a swarthy forefinger; 'Toulon
(where the galleys are), Spain over there, Algiers over there.
Creeping away to the left here, Nice. Round by the Cornice to
Genoa. Genoa Mole and Harbour. Quarantine Ground. City there;
terrace gardens blushing with the bella donna. Here, Porto Fino.
Stand out for Leghorn. Out again for Civita Vecchia. so away to--
hey! there's no room for Naples;' he had got to the wall by this
time; 'but it's all one; it's in there!'
He remained on his knees, looking up at his fellow-prisoner with a
lively look for a prison. A sunburnt, quick, lithe, little man,
though rather thickset. Earrings in his brown ears, white teeth
lighting up his grotesque brown face, intensely black hair
clustering about his brown throat, a ragged red shirt open at his
brown breast. Loose, seaman-like trousers, decent shoes, a long
red cap, a red sash round his waist, and a knife in it.
'Judge if I come back from Naples as I went! See here, my master!
Civita Vecchia, Leghorn, Porto Fino, Genoa, Cornice, Off Nice
(which is in there), Marseilles, you and me. The apartment of the
jailer and his keys is where I put this thumb; and here at my wrist
they keep the national razor in its case--the guillotine locked
The other man spat suddenly on the pavement, and gurgled in his
Some lock below gurgled in its throat immediately afterwards, and
then a door crashed. Slow steps began ascending the stairs; the
prattle of a sweet little voice mingled with the noise they made;
and the prison-keeper appeared carrying his daughter, three or four
years old, and a basket.
'How goes the world this forenoon, gentlemen? My little one, you
see, going round with me to have a peep at her father's birds.
Fie, then! Look at the birds, my pretty, look at the birds.'
He looked sharply at the birds himself, as he held the child up at
the grate, especially at the little bird, whose activity he seemed
to mistrust. 'I have brought your bread, Signor John Baptist,'
said he (they all spoke in French, but the little man was an
Italian); 'and if I might recommend you not to game--'
'You don't recommend the master!' said John Baptist, showing his
teeth as he smiled.
'Oh! but the master wins,' returned the jailer, with a passing
look of no particular liking at the other man, 'and you lose. It's
quite another thing. You get husky bread and sour drink by it; and
he gets sausage of Lyons, veal in savoury jelly, white bread,
strachino cheese, and good wine by it. Look at the birds, my
'Poor birds!' said the child.
The fair little face, touched with divine compassion, as it peeped
shrinkingly through the grate, was like an angel's in the prison.
John Baptist rose and moved towards it, as if it had a good
attraction for him. The other bird remained as before, except for
an impatient glance at the basket.
'Stay!' said the jailer, putting his little daughter on the outer
ledge of the grate, 'she shall feed the birds. This big loaf is
for Signor John Baptist. We must break it to get it through into
the cage. So, there's a tame bird to kiss the little hand! This
sausage in a vine leaf is for Monsieur Rigaud. Again--this veal in
savoury jelly is for Monsieur Rigaud. Again--these three white
little loaves are for Monsieur Rigaud. Again, this cheese--again,
this wine--again, this tobacco--all for Monsieur Rigaud. Lucky
The child put all these things between the bars into the soft,
Smooth, well-shaped hand, with evident dread--more than once
drawing back her own and looking at the man with her fair brow
roughened into an expression half of fright and half of anger.
Whereas she had put the lump of coarse bread into the swart,
scaled, knotted hands of John Baptist (who had scarcely as much
nail on his eight fingers and two thumbs as would have made out one
for Monsieur Rigaud), with ready confidence; and, when he kissed
her hand, had herself passed it caressingly over his face.
Monsieur Rigaud, indifferent to this distinction, propitiated the
father by laughing and nodding at the daughter as often as she gave
him anything; and, so soon as he had all his viands about him in
convenient nooks of the ledge on which he rested, began to eat with
When Monsieur Rigaud laughed, a change took place in his face, that
was more remarkable than prepossessing. His moustache went up
under his nose, and his nose came down over his moustache, in a
very sinister and cruel manner.
'There!' said the jailer, turning his basket upside down to beat
the crumbs out, 'I have expended all the money I received; here is
the note of it, and that's a thing accomplished. Monsieur Rigaud,
as I expected yesterday, the President will look for the pleasure
of your society at an hour after mid-day, to-day.'
'To try me, eh?' said Rigaud, pausing, knife in hand and morsel in
'You have said it. To try you.'
'There is no news for me?' asked John Baptist, who had begun,
contentedly, to munch his bread.
The jailer shrugged his shoulders.
'Lady of mine! Am I to lie here all my life, my father?'
'What do I know!' cried the jailer, turning upon him with southern
quickness, and gesticulating with both his hands and all his
fingers, as if he were threatening to tear him to pieces. 'My
friend, how is it possible for me to tell how long you are to lie
here? What do I know, John Baptist Cavalletto? Death of my life!
There are prisoners here sometimes, who are not in such a devil of
a hurry to be tried.'
He seemed to glance obliquely at Monsieur Rigaud in this remark;
but Monsieur Rigaud had already resumed his meal, though not with
quite so quick an appetite as before.
'Adieu, my birds!' said the keeper of the prison, taking his pretty
child in his arms, and dictating the words with a kiss.
'Adieu, my birds!' the pretty child repeated.
Her innocent face looked back so brightly over his shoulder, as he
walked away with her, singing her the song of the child's game:
'Who passes by this road so late?
Compagnon de la Majolaine!
Who passes by this road so late?
that John Baptist felt it a point of honour to reply at the grate,
and in good time and tune, though a little hoarsely:
'Of all the king's knights 'tis the flower,
Compagnon de la Majolaine!
Of all the king's knights 'tis the flower,
which accompanied them so far down the few steep stairs, that the
prison-keeper had to stop at last for his little daughter to hear
the song out, and repeat the Refrain while they were yet in sight.
Then the child's head disappeared, and the prison-keeper's head
disappeared, but the little voice prolonged the strain until the
Monsieur Rigaud, finding the listening John Baptist in his way
before the echoes had ceased (even the echoes were the weaker for
imprisonment, and seemed to lag), reminded him with a push of his
foot that he had better resume his own darker place. The little
man sat down again upon the pavement with the negligent ease of one
who was thoroughly accustomed to pavements; and placing three hunks
of coarse bread before himself, and falling to upon a fourth, began
contentedly to work his way through them as if to clear them off
were a sort of game.
Perhaps he glanced at the Lyons sausage, and perhaps he glanced at
the veal in savoury jelly, but they were not there long, to make
his mouth water; Monsieur Rigaud soon dispatched them, in spite of
the president and tribunal, and proceeded to suck his fingers as
clean as he could, and to wipe them on his vine leaves. Then, as
he paused in his drink to contemplate his fellow-prisoner, his
moustache went up, and his nose came down.
'How do you find the bread?'
'A little dry, but I have my old sauce here,' returned John
Baptist, holding up his knife.
'I can cut my bread so--like a melon. Or so--like an omelette. Or
so--like a fried fish. Or so--like Lyons sausage,' said John
Baptist, demonstrating the various cuts on the bread he held, and
soberly chewing what he had in his mouth.
'Here!' cried Monsieur Rigaud. 'You may drink. You may finish
It was no great gift, for there was mighty little wine left; but
Signor Cavalletto, jumping to his feet, received the bottle
gratefully, turned it upside down at his mouth, and smacked his
'Put the bottle by with the rest,' said Rigaud.
The little man obeyed his orders, and stood ready to give him a
lighted match; for he was now rolling his tobacco into cigarettes
by the aid of little squares of paper which had been brought in
'Here! You may have one.'
'A thousand thanks, my master!' John Baptist said in his own
language, and with the quick conciliatory manner of his own
Monsieur Rigaud arose, lighted a cigarette, put the rest of his
stock into a breast-pocket, and stretched himself out at full
length upon the bench. Cavalletto sat down on the pavement,
holding one of his ankles in each hand, and smoking peacefully.
There seemed to be some uncomfortable attraction of Monsieur
Rigaud's eyes to the immediate neighbourhood of that part of the
pavement where the thumb had been in the plan. They were so drawn
in that direction, that the Italian more than once followed them to
and back from the pavement in some surprise.
'What an infernal hole this is!' said Monsieur Rigaud, breaking a
long pause. 'Look at the light of day. Day? the light of
yesterday week, the light of six months ago, the light of six years
ago. So slack and dead!'
It came languishing down a square funnel that blinded a window in
the staircase wall, through which the sky was never seen--nor
'Cavalletto,' said Monsieur Rigaud, suddenly withdrawing his gaze
from this funnel to which they had both involuntarily turned their
eyes, 'you know me for a gentleman?'
'How long have we been here?'
'I, eleven weeks, to-morrow night at midnight. You, nine weeks and
three days, at five this afternoon.'
'Have I ever done anything here? Ever touched the broom, or spread
the mats, or rolled them up, or found the draughts, or collected
the dominoes, or put my hand to any kind of work?'
'Have you ever thought of looking to me to do any kind of work?'
John Baptist answered with that peculiar back-handed shake of the
right forefinger which is the most expressive negative in the
'No! You knew from the first moment when you saw me here, that I
was a gentleman?'
'ALTRO!' returned John Baptist, closing his eyes and giving his
head a most vehement toss. The word being, according to its
Genoese emphasis, a confirmation, a contradiction, an assertion, a
denial, a taunt, a compliment, a joke, and fifty other things,
became in the present instance, with a significance beyond all
power of written expression, our familiar English 'I believe you!'
'Haha! You are right! A gentleman I am! And a gentleman I'll
live, and a gentleman I'll die! It's my intent to be a gentleman.
It's my game. Death of my soul, I play it out wherever I go!'
He changed his posture to a sitting one, crying with a triumphant
'Here I am! See me! Shaken out of destiny's dice-box into the
company of a mere smuggler;--shut up with a poor little contraband
trader, whose papers are wrong, and whom the police lay hold of
besides, for placing his boat (as a means of getting beyond the
frontier) at the disposition of other little people whose papers
are wrong; and he instinctively recognises my position, even by
this light and in this place. It's well done! By Heaven! I win,
however the game goes.'
Again his moustache went up, and his nose came down.
'What's the hour now?' he asked, with a dry hot pallor upon him,
rather difficult of association with merriment.
'A little half-hour after mid-day.'
'Good! The President will have a gentleman before him soon. Come!
Shall I tell you on what accusation? It must be now, or never, for
I shall not return here. Either I shall go free, or I shall go to
be made ready for shaving. You know where they keep the razor.'
Signor Cavalletto took his cigarette from between his parted lips,
and showed more momentary discomfiture than might have been
'I am a'--Monsieur Rigaud stood up to say it--'I am a cosmopolitan
gentleman. I own no particular country. My father was Swiss--
Canton de Vaud. My mother was French by blood, English by birth.
I myself was born in Belgium. I am a citizen of the world.'
His theatrical air, as he stood with one arm on his hip within the
folds of his cloak, together with his manner of disregarding his
companion and addressing the opposite wall instead, seemed to
intimate that he was rehearsing for the President, whose
examination he was shortly to undergo, rather than troubling
himself merely to enlighten so small a person as John Baptist
'Call me five-and-thirty years of age. I have seen the world. I
have lived here, and lived there, and lived like a gentleman
everywhere. I have been treated and respected as a gentleman
universally. If you try to prejudice me by making out that I have
lived by my wits--how do your lawyers live--your politicians--your
intriguers--your men of the Exchange?'
He kept his small smooth hand in constant requisition, as if it
were a witness to his gentility that had often done him good
'Two years ago I came to Marseilles. I admit that I was poor; I
had been ill. When your lawyers, your politicians, your
intriguers, your men of the Exchange fall ill, and have not scraped
money together, they become poor. I put up at the Cross of Gold,--
kept then by Monsieur Henri Barronneau--sixty-five at least, and in
a failing state of health. I had lived in the house some four
months when Monsieur Henri Barronneau had the misfortune to die;--
at any rate, not a rare misfortune, that. It happens without any
aid of mine, pretty often.'
John Baptist having smoked his cigarette down to his fingers' ends,
Monsieur Rigaud had the magnanimity to throw him another. He
lighted the second at the ashes of the first, and smoked on,
looking sideways at his companion, who, preoccupied with his own
case, hardly looked at him.
'Monsieur Barronneau left a widow. She was two-and-twenty. She
had gained a reputation for beauty, and (which is often another
thing) was beautiful. I continued to live at the Cross of Gold.
I married Madame Barronneau. It is not for me to say whether there
was any great disparity in such a match. Here I stand, with the
contamination of a jail upon me; but it is possible that you may
think me better suited to her than her former husband was.'
He had a certain air of being a handsome man--which he was not; and
a certain air of being a well-bred man--which he was not. It was
mere swagger and challenge; but in this particular, as in many
others, blustering assertion goes for proof, half over the world.
'Be it as it may, Madame Barronneau approved of me. That is not to
prejudice me, I hope?'
His eye happening to light upon John Baptist with this inquiry,
that little man briskly shook his head in the negative, and
repeated in an argumentative tone under his breath, altro, altro,
altro, altro--an infinite number of times.
- Now came the difficulties of our position. I am proud. I say
nothing in defence of pride, but I am proud. It is also my
character to govern. I can't submit; I must govern.
Unfortunately, the property of Madame Rigaud was settled upon
herself. Such was the insane act of her late husband. More
unfortunately still, she had relations. When a wife's relations
interpose against a husband who is a gentleman, who is proud, and
who must govern, the consequences are inimical to peace. There was
yet another source of difference between us. Madame Rigaud was
unfortunately a little vulgar. I sought to improve her manners and
ameliorate her general tone; she (supported in this likewise by her
relations) resented my endeavours. Quarrels began to arise between
us; and, propagated and exaggerated by the slanders of the
relations of Madame Rigaud, to become notorious to the neighbours.
It has been said that I treated Madame Rigaud with cruelty. I may
have been seen to slap her face--nothing more. I have a light
hand; and if I have been seen apparently to correct Madame Rigaud
in that manner, I have done it almost playfully.'
If the playfulness of Monsieur Rigaud were at all expressed by his
smile at this point, the relations of Madame Rigaud might have said
that they would have much preferred his correcting that unfortunate
'I am sensitive and brave. I do not advance it as a merit to be
sensitive and brave, but it is my character. If the male relations
of Madame Rigaud had put themselves forward openly, I should have
known how to deal with them. They knew that, and their
machinations were conducted in secret; consequently, Madame Rigaud
and I were brought into frequent and unfortunate collision. Even
when I wanted any little sum of money for my personal expenses, I
could not obtain it without collision--and I, too, a man whose
character it is to govern! One night, Madame Rigaud and myself
were walking amicably--I may say like lovers--on a height
overhanging the sea. An evil star occasioned Madame Rigaud to
advert to her relations; I reasoned with her on that subject, and
remonstrated on the want of duty and devotion manifested in her
allowing herself to be influenced by their jealous animosity
towards her husband. Madame Rigaud retorted; I retorted; Madame
Rigaud grew warm; I grew warm, and provoked her. I admit it.
Frankness is a part of my character. At length, Madame Rigaud, in
an access of fury that I must ever deplore, threw herself upon me
with screams of passion (no doubt those that were overheard at some
distance), tore my clothes, tore my hair, lacerated my hands,
trampled and trod the dust, and finally leaped over, dashing
herself to death upon the rocks below. Such is the train of
incidents which malice has perverted into my endeavouring to force
from Madame Rigaud a relinquishment of her rights; and, on her
persistence in a refusal to make the concession I required,
struggling with her--assassinating her!'
He stepped aside to the ledge where the vine leaves yet lay strewn
about, collected two or three, and stood wiping his hands upon
them, with his back to the light.
'Well,' he demanded after a silence, 'have you nothing to say to
'It's ugly,' returned the little man, who had risen, and was
brightening his knife upon his shoe, as he leaned an arm against
'What do you mean?'
John Baptist polished his knife in silence.
'Do you mean that I have not represented the case correctly?'
'Al-tro!' returned John Baptist. The word was an apology now, and
stood for 'Oh, by no means!'
'Presidents and tribunals are so prejudiced.'
'Well,' cried the other, uneasily flinging the end of his cloak
over his shoulder with an oath, 'let them do their worst!'
'Truly I think they will,' murmured John Baptist to himself, as he
bent his head to put his knife in his sash.
Nothing more was said on either side, though they both began
walking to and fro, and necessarily crossed at every turn.
Monsieur Rigaud sometimes stopped, as if he were going to put his
case in a new light, or make some irate remonstrance; but Signor
Cavalletto continuing to go slowly to and fro at a grotesque kind
of jog-trot pace with his eyes turned downward, nothing came of
By-and-by the noise of the key in the lock arrested them both. The
sound of voices succeeded, and the tread of feet. The door
clashed, the voices and the feet came on, and the prison-keeper
slowly ascended the stairs, followed by a guard of soldiers.
'Now, Monsieur Rigaud,' said he, pausing for a moment at the grate,
with his keys in his hands, 'have the goodness to come out.'
'I am to depart in state, I see?'
'Why, unless you did,' returned the jailer, 'you might depart in so
many pieces that it would be difficult to get you together again.
There's a crowd, Monsieur Rigaud, and it doesn't love you.'
He passed on out of sight, and unlocked and unbarred a low door in
the corner of the chamber. 'Now,' said he, as he opened it and
appeared within, 'come out.'
There is no sort of whiteness in all the hues under the sun at all
like the whiteness of Monsieur Rigaud's face as it was then.
Neither is there any expression of the human countenance at all
like that expression in every little line of which the frightened
heart is seen to beat. Both are conventionally compared with
death; but the difference is the whole deep gulf between the
struggle done, and the fight at its most desperate extremity.
He lighted another of his paper cigars at his companion's; put it
tightly between his teeth; covered his head with a soft slouched
hat; threw the end of his cloak over his shoulder again; and walked
out into the side gallery on which the door opened, without taking
any further notice of Signor Cavalletto. As to that little man
himself, his whole attention had become absorbed in getting near
the door and looking out at it. Precisely as a beast might
approach the opened gate of his den and eye the freedom beyond, he
passed those few moments in watching and peering, until the door
was closed upon him.
There was an officer in command of the soldiers; a stout,
serviceable, profoundly calm man, with his drawn sword in his hand,
smoking a cigar. He very briefly directed the placing of Monsieur
Rigaud in the midst of the party, put himself with consummate
indifference at their head, gave the word 'march!' and so they all
went jingling down the staircase. The door clashed--the key
turned--and a ray of unusual light, and a breath of unusual air,
seemed to have passed through the jail, vanishing in a tiny wreath
of smoke from the cigar.
Still, in his captivity, like a lower animal--like some impatient
ape, or roused bear of the smaller species--the prisoner, now left
solitary, had jumped upon the ledge, to lose no glimpse of this
departure. As he yet stood clasping the grate with both hands, an
uproar broke upon his hearing; yells, shrieks, oaths, threats,
execrations, all comprehended in it, though (as in a storm) nothing
but a raging swell of sound distinctly heard.
Excited into a still greater resemblance to a caged wild animal by
his anxiety to know more, the prisoner leaped nimbly down, ran
round the chamber, leaped nimbly up again, clasped the grate and
tried to shake it, leaped down and ran, leaped up and listened, and
never rested until the noise, becoming more and more distant, had
died away. How many better prisoners have worn their noble hearts
out so; no man thinking of it; not even the beloved of their souls
realising it; great kings and governors, who had made them captive,
careering in the sunlight jauntily, and men cheering them on. Even
the said great personages dying in bed, making exemplary ends and
sounding speeches; and polite history, more servile than their
instruments, embalming them!
At last, John Baptist, now able to choose his own spot within the
compass of those walls for the exercise of his faculty of going to
sleep when he would, lay down upon the bench, with his face turned
over on his crossed arms, and slumbered. In his submission, in his
lightness, in his good humour, in his short-lived passion, in his
easy contentment with hard bread and hard stones, in his ready
sleep, in his fits and starts, altogether a true son of the land
that gave him birth.
The wide stare stared itself out for one while; the Sun went down
in a red, green, golden glory; the stars came out in the heavens,
and the fire-flies mimicked them in the lower air, as men may
feebly imitate the goodness of a better order of beings; the long
dusty roads and the interminable plains were in repose--and so deep
a hush was on the sea, that it scarcely whispered of the time when
it shall give up its dead.