So saying, the burly seaman, preceded by the landlady, retired to his chamber. The house was soon in quiet, but the boy sat long by the decaying embers of the fire, musing over the words “he shall be stripped of his rank and titles”—then took from his vest a small gold locket. It contained a lock of hair—two persons’ hair entwined together, dark and fair—but it bore the impress of a coronet, and the proud motto, “Nulli Secundi.”
Great was the concourse that thronged the room to which we first introduced our reader, on the morning after the events we have detailed—the weather-beaten mariner was there to state his charge—the parish clerk with more than usual importance was ready to act as secretary—the lawyer, the curate, all prepared to play their part in the approaching drama of real life. The Earl in his magisterial seat—bitter mockery of justice—prepared to sit in judgment on a wretch not half so guilty as himself. But he belonged to a privileged class—the other was one of the “lower orders.”
The entrance of Mr. Simpkins the constable, with rueful countenance and faltering voice, with the intelligence that the prisoner had escaped, created a great sensation. No one was more indignant than the Earl—though how far this was real may be judged when we inform the reader that Lambert had held a long conversation with the prisoner, Simpkins and his two assistants being first treated to a powerful opiate in a mug of ale. This conversation had resulted in Curly Tom’s departing—a pensioned tool, a hired slave, to do the will, even to murder, of his titled employer—he had no choice save the gallows. The constable was severely reprimanded, a reward offered for the apprehension of the fugitive—the seaman’s deposition taken in due form, and all the forms of law gone through with as if it had indeed been a court of justice. The seaman treated the affair lightly, laughed and joked with the farmers, and the crowd began to disperse, when a burst of musical laughter, bitter mocking in its tones, was heard in the apartment. It came from no one there. All stood aghast. Many a stout-hearted countryman who would have faced a cannon without shrinking, trembled and turned pale. The women shrieked; the nobleman started up.
‘Let no one quit the apartment,’ said he. ’Search the walls—there must be some secret panel there.’ It was done, but not a trace, not a knob was visible; all sounded hard and solid.
‘You have a shipmate with you, my lord,’ said the mariner, ’whose name is not upon the ship’s books. I have heard of such things at sea.’
‘And what might your wisdom suppose them to be?’ said the Earl, with a sneer.
‘It is hard for man to tell,’ said the seaman, who had not been the slightest discomposed by the voice. ’He who made the ocean and the dry land alone knows; but a conscience void of offence is the sheet anchor for man to rely upon in the voyage of life. I never knew such a thing to happen save to a wicked man.’