With the usual precautions, Austin then departed.
“And now,” cried Jack, leaping up, “for an achievement, compared with which all I have yet done shall be as nothing!”
The Iron Bar.
Jack Sheppard’s first object was to free himself from his handcuffs. This he accomplished by holding the chain that connected them firmly between his teeth, and squeezing his fingers as closely together as possible, succeeded in drawing his wrists through the manacles. He next twisted the heavy gyves round and round, and partly by main strength, partly by a dexterous and well-applied jerk, sapped asunder the central link by which they were attached to the padlock. Taking off his stockings, he then drew up the basils as far as he was able, and tied the fragments of the broken chain to his legs, to prevent them from clanking, and impeding his future exertions.
Jack’s former attempt to pass up the chimney, it may be remembered, was obstructed by an iron bar. To remove this obstacle it was necessary make an extensive breach in the wall. With the broken links of the chain, which served him in lieu of more efficient implements, he commenced operations just above the chimney-piece, and soon contrived to pick a hole in the plaster.
He found the wall, as he suspected, solidly constructed of brick and stone; and with the slight and inadequate tools which he possessed, it was a work of infinite labour and skill to get out a single brick. That done, however, he was well aware the rest would be comparatively easy, and as he threw the brick to the ground, he exclaimed triumphantly, “The first step is taken—the main difficulty is overcome.”
Animated by this trifling success, he proceeded with fresh ardour, and the rapidity of his progress was proclaimed by the heap of bricks, stones, and mortar which before long covered the floor. At the expiration of an hour, by dint of unremitting exertion, he had made so large a breach in the chimney, that he could stand upright in it. He was now within a foot of the bar, and introducing himself into the hole, speedily worked his way to it.
Regardless of the risk he incurred from some heavy stone dropping on his head or feet,—regardless also of the noise made by the falling rubbish, and of the imminent danger which he consequently ran of being interrupted by some of the jailers, should the sound reach their ears, he continued to pull down large masses of the wall, which he flung upon the floor of the cell.
Having worked thus for another quarter of an hour without being sensible of fatigue, though he was half stifled by the clouds of dust which his exertions raised, he had made a hole about three feet wide, and six high, and uncovered the iron bar. Grasping it firmly with both hands, he quickly wrenched if from the stones in which it was mortised, and leapt to the ground. On examination it proved to be a flat bar of iron, nearly a yard in length, and more than an inch square. “A capital instrument for my purpose,” thought Jack, shouldering it, “and worth all the trouble I have had in procuring it.”