THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND
CHAPTER 36: AN ENCOUNTER IN THE DARK
"An ye will keep the offer open--"
"'Tis open till the morrow at this hour."
"Then I will answer you at that time," said the gentleman, and
disappeared, the master following him.
I had a time of it to cool the king down, but I managed it.
I whispered in his ear, to this effect:
"Your grace will go for nothing, but after another fashion. And
so shall I. To-night we shall both be free."
"Ah! How is that?"
"With this thing which I have stolen, I will unlock these locks
and cast off these chains to-night. When he comes about nine-thirty
to inspect us for the night, we will seize him, gag him, batter
him, and early in the morning we will march out of this town,
proprietors of this caravan of slaves."
That was as far as I went, but the king was charmed and satisfied.
That evening we waited patiently for our fellow-slaves to get
to sleep and signify it by the usual sign, for you must not take
many chances on those poor fellows if you can avoid it. It is
best to keep your own secrets. No doubt they fidgeted only about
as usual, but it didn't seem so to me. It seemed to me that they
were going to be forever getting down to their regular snoring.
As the time dragged on I got nervously afraid we shouldn't have
enough of it left for our needs; so I made several premature
attempts, and merely delayed things by it; for I couldn't seem
to touch a padlock, there in the dark, without starting a rattle
out of it which interrupted somebody's sleep and made him turn
over and wake some more of the gang.
But finally I did get my last iron off, and was a free man once
more. I took a good breath of relief, and reached for the king's
irons. Too late! in comes the master, with a light in one hand
and his heavy walking-staff in the other. I snuggled close among
the wallow of snorers, to conceal as nearly as possible that I was
naked of irons; and I kept a sharp lookout and prepared to spring
for my man the moment he should bend over me.