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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 420 pages of information about The Iron Game.

“Don’t fear, Jack; I’ll be quiet as a sucking pig in star light.  I’ll be yer shadow and never open me mouth, even if a jug, big as Teddy Fin’s praty-patch, stud furninst me!”

“It isn’t your tongue I’m so much afraid of as your propensity to combat.  You must resist that delight of yours—­whacking stray heads and flourishing your big fists.”

“My fists, is it?  Then I’ll engage to keep them still as O’Connell’s legs in Phoenix Square.”

“Now, I shall report that you are considering my advice.  You must be very gentle and placating to the guard, and let on that you have something on your mind.”

“Indeed, I needn’t let on at all.  I have as much on me mind as Biddy McGinniss had on her back when she carried Mick home from the gallows.”

“O Barney, Barney, you would joke if the halter were about your neck!”

“An’ why wouldn’t I, me bye?  What chance would I have if I didn’t?  I couldn’t joke when I was dead, could I?”

“Well, well, think over what I’ve said, and remember that penitence half absolves guilt.”

This was said for the benefit of the guard, who had approached as Jack arose to take his leave.

CHAPTER XXIII.

ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND WAR.

Opportunity is an instinct to the man who dares.  To him the law of the impossible has no meaning.  To him there is no such thing as the unexpected.  What he wants comes to pass, because he can not see danger, difficulty, nor any of the obstacles that daunt the prudent and the temporizing.  It is, therefore, the impossible that is fulfilled in many of the crises of life.  By the same token it is the foolhardy and preposterous thing that is most readily done in determinate conjunctures.  We guard against the possible, but we take little note of the enterprises that involve foolhardiness or desperation.  Daring has safeguards of its own that are understood only when mad ventures have come to successful issue.  Helpless and hopeless as Jack’s situation seemed, the very poverty of his resources, helped the daring scheme of escape that filled his mind night and day during these apparently indolent weeks of pleasuring in the ranks of his enemies.  Then, too, the arrogant self-confidence of his captors was an inestimable aid.  Military discipline and provost vigilance were at their slackest stage in the rebel lines at this triumphant epoch in the fortunes of the Confederacy.  The easily won combat at Bull Run had filled the authorities—­as well as the rank and file—­with overweening contempt for the resources of the North, or the enterprise of its soldiers.  It was not until long after the time I am now writing about, that the prisoners were closely guarded and access refused to the idle and curious.  But, as a matter of fact, nothing in the fortunes of our friends equals the truth of the thrilling and desperate chances taken by Northern captives to escape the lingering death of prison in the South.  Since the war, volumes have been written of personal experience, amply attested, that would in romance receive the derisive mark of the critics.  Danger daily met becomes a commonplace to men of resolution.  Things which appall us when we read them become a simple part of our purpose when we live in an atmosphere of peril and put our hope only in ending the ordeal.

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