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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 444 pages of information about Jack Sheppard.

Overjoyed beyond measure at having vanquished this apparently-insurmountable obstacle, Jack darted through the door.

CHAPTER XX.

The Leads.

Ascending a short flight of steps, Jack found at the summit a door, which being bolted in the inside he speedily opened.

The fresh air, which blew in his face, greatly revived him.  He had now reached what was called the Lower Leads,—­a flat, covering a part of the prison contiguous to the gateway, and surrounded on all sides by walls about fourteen feet high.  On the north stood the battlements of one of the towers of the gate.  On this side a flight of wooden steps, protected by a hand-rail, led to a door opening upon the summit of the prison.  This door was crested with spikes, and guarded on the right by a bristling semicircle of spikes.  Hastily ascending these steps, Jack found the door, as he anticipated, locked.  He could have easily forced it, but preferred a more expeditious mode of reaching the roof which suggested itself to him.  Mounting the door he had last opened, he placed his hands on the wall above, and quickly drew himself up.

Just as he got on the roof of the prison, St. Sepulchre’s clock struck eight.  It was instantly answered by the deep note of St. Paul’s; and the concert was prolonged by other neighbouring churches.  Jack had thus been six hours in accomplishing his arduous task.

Though nearly dark, there was still light enough left to enable him to discern surrounding objects.  Through the gloom he distinctly perceived the dome of St. Paul’s, hanging like a black cloud in the air; and nearer to him he remarked the golden ball on the summit of the College of Physicians, compared by Garth to a “gilded pill.”  Other towers and spires—­St. Martin’s on Ludgate-hill, and Christchurch in Newgate Street, were also distinguishable.  As he gazed down into the courts of the prison, he could not help shuddering, lest a false step might precipitate him below.

To prevent the recurrence of any such escape as that just described, it was deemed expedient, in more recent times, to keep a watchman at the top of Newgate.  Not many years ago, two men, employed on this duty, quarrelled during the night, and in the morning their bodies were found stretched upon the pavement of the yard beneath.

Proceeding along the wall, Jack reached the southern tower, over the battlements of which he clambered, and crossing it, dropped upon the roof of the gate.  He then scaled the northern tower, and made his way to the summit of that part of the prison which fronted Giltspur Street.  Arrived at the extremity of the building, he found that it overlooked the flat-roof of a house which, as far as he could judge in the darkness, lay at a depth of about twenty feet below.

Not choosing to hazard so great a fall, Jack turned to examine the building, to see whether any more favourable point of descent presented itself, but could discover nothing but steep walls, without a single available projection.  As he looked around, he beheld an incessant stream of passengers hurrying on below.  Lights glimmered in the windows of the different houses; and a lamp-lighter was running from post to post on his way to Snow Hill.

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