Prisoners In The Tower by Lucy Copinger

An Episode of Travel

"In the words of Macaulay this, ladies and gentleman, is the saddest spot on earth." The white-haired old Tower guard in charge of the little chapel of Saint Peter waved his hand impressively toward the open door. "Through that door"—the heads of the American tourists who were doing the Tower all turned in unison—"you may see the block upon which many a royal head has rested, and beneath these very stones lie buried two dukes between two queens—Dukes of Northumberland and of Somerset, with the Queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard—all beheaded."

The chapel was a crypt-like place, windowless, dark, and musty, and at this mournful climax one of the tourists who was nervous moved suddenly off that particular stone upon which she had been standing; the school teachers out for self-improvement began to write it all in their note-books, while a stout matron evidently of good old Dutch stock looked sadly down at the flat, gray stones. "Poor things!" she murmured, "and there ain't one of them got a respectable white tombstone with a wreath carved on it." Then, in their usual two-by-two line, the party moved down the aisle wearily, but triumphant in the fact that they had succeeded in doing the Tower, the Abbey, and the Museum all in one day. Peggy Wynne, in demurely severe blue suit and jaunty panama, lagged at the end of the line while she looked critically at her compatriots.

"The animals went out two by two,
The elephant and the kangaroo,"

she murmured to herself, "and I'm so tired of playing Noah's Ark or a Christian Association out for a lark," she continued in unconscious poetical despair. Then, warned by the attitude of the guard, that wonderful attitude of the haughty Briton in hopes of a tip, she opened her ridiculously tiny gold-linked purse and gave herself up to the absorbing question as to which of the pieces therein was a shilling. Having at last decided this, she presented it to the guard with a dazzling smile. It had been so long since Peggy had had an opportunity to smile at anything masculine that the smile was unusually bright.

She had already passed through the little door when she suddenly turned back. The other tourists, noses in Baedekers, were hurrying on before, the guard was busily counting his sixpences, and she slipped back into the dim chapel unperceived.

"They'll think I've gone back to those dingy lodgings," she reflected, as she groped her way between the benches into an even more shadowy corner—a little recess, with a tiny niche in the wall, that had probably been the sanctuary of some pious king. She seated herself comfortably behind the pillar in the corner and gazed pensively at the stones.

"Tombs and tombs and tombs!" she murmured mournfully, "even in Paris, instead of Maxim's and the cafes, nothing but tombs! The next time I want to see where anybody is buried I will just go out to the cemetery instead of coming across that dreadful ocean. Oh, just to have one adventure before I go home!" she continued with a long sigh, "a real adventure with a real man in it—not a horrid, womanish Frenchman or a stolid, conceited Britisher, but a nice, safe American—like—like—like—my American."

Then the dimple in her right cheek that was probably responsible for the calling her Peggy, in spite of her many protests for her rightful dignity of "Margaret," came out suddenly as it always did when she thought of her American. She had called him that from the time when, in the midst of the perplexities of the English luggage system, she had looked up and found him watching her. The cut of his gray suit and his shoes had told her his nationality at once, and they had looked for a moment at each other with that peculiar friendliness that compatriots in a strange land always feel. She had forgotten him until, leaning from a taxi-cab in the Rue de la Paix, she had met the same eyes, this time so unrefrainedly joyful in their recognition that she had suddenly blushed. When, a week later at Calais, as she stood by the rail of the departing Channel steamer she caught a glimpse of him on the dock, he had seemed like an old friend, and before she had thought she had smiled in answer to his lifted hat. She had grown so sure of seeing him that now when they had been in London a week and he had not appeared she found herself suddenly sick of tombs and tourists.

Peggy's day had been a strenuous one of trams, motor-busses, abbeys, and galleries, and though she realized an adventure might probably await her outside, it was pleasant to sit for awhile in the dimness of the quiet chapel. From her recess she could look out through the open doors upon the tragic Tower Green, where in the sunlight two sparrows were frivolously flirting. Even as she watched, the sparrows grew dim, her ridiculously tiny purse slipped from her hand, her head with its thick dark hair dropped against the pillar, and her lashes touched her cheek. After awhile a cautious footfall sounded in the chapel, then somewhere a heavy door closed, and all was still.

When Peggy sat up indignantly with the queer sensation that she had been violently shaken, darkness surrounded her, a darkness so deep that she could not see her hand as she ran it along the bench in front of her. With the movement came remembrance of her surroundings, and also a realization in strained and aching muscles that a stone pillar is not a wise choice for a head-rest.

"Oh!" she gasped painfully.

"Don't be frightened," entreated a voice quite near to her, and out of the lesser darkness a tall black figure rose suddenly.

"I am not at all frightened," said Peggy at once. In spite of the bigness of the figure there was something reassuring in the voice with its crisp, humorous note and its intonation that Peggy at once recognized as American.

"What are you doing here?" she continued, inhospitably addressing the darkness before her.

"I went to sleep" the voice explained, "on the other side of the pillar."

"How silly!" said Peggy, severely, "didn't you see me here?"

"It was a little dim," the voice apologized and, Peggy's silence still condemning, "you should have snored," it continued extenuatingly.

Peggy arose with a dignity that she hoped penetrated the darkness. Then she groped along the bench.

"My purse," she explained anxiously, "and it had a sixpence for tea and two shillings for tips," she continued with an unconscious epitome of the joys of traveling. As she groped along bench and floor she was conscious of assistance from her companion, and just as she grasped the discovered purse she felt purse and hand caught and retained in a firm grip.

"I apologize," he said at once, still however, holding on to her hand, "I thought it was the purse."

Peggy jerked her hand loose indignantly, and speechless with wrath she hurried toward the door only to find that she had mistaken her direction. In her effort to recover her bearings she become hopelessly confused, stumbled noisily over a bench, and fell headlong into the arms of her companion.

"You had better sit down again," he remarked coolly as he returned her to her seat and sat down calmly beside her. As he did so Peggy noted curiously the dim attractive silhouette of his head and the remarkably good line from ear to shoulder.

"I am going at once," she said haughtily, but without moving.

"You can't," the man beside her replied, "and if you promise not to cry or fall over any more benches I will tell you why—although I myself do not object to the latter," he continued judicially, "but for the sake of your own bones, merely."

Peggy ignored the last.

"Why can't I go?" she said defiantly.

"Because the door is locked," he explained succinctly.

"We can both scream or you can throw a bench through the window," said Peggy triumphantly.

The unseen laughed a nice laugh that Peggy liked.

"In that latter case, beside the fact that there is no window, we would surely be had up before the head-warden of this old jail. Besides, do you know what time it is?"

"About tea time," said Peggy who had lunched frugally at one of the tea-shops on a cup of tea and a jam roll.

"Just before you woke up," said her companion, "I used my last match—it always is the last in a case like this—to look at my watch. It was half-past twelve. Remember, you promised——" at a warning gurgle from Peggy.

Then suddenly a laugh rang out sweet and clear in the darkness of the musty chapel, a laugh that echoed into the recesses of the old tombs—perhaps in its musical cadences stirring pleasantly the haughty slumber of their noble occupants.

"What are you laughing at?" said the voice suspiciously.

"An adventure at last!" Peggy cried, clapping her hands applaudingly.

"I am glad you take it so cheerfully," returned her companion. "There is only one thing to do," he continued practically, "I thought it out for myself before you woke up and complicated matters by your appearance. Of course with sufficient yelling we can arouse the barrack sentry, and for our pains we'd probably have the whole barrack out to arrest us. There is no way in which you can offend the noble and independent Briton more deeply than by treating lightly his worship of royalty, dead or alive, and we would probably be held for committing lese majeste by getting ourselves locked up with the numerous relicts of Henry the Eighth. But if we wait until morning we can run good chances of slipping out unperceived with the first crowd of tourists."

"I feel just like the little princes in the Tower, or Queen Mary or Charlotte Corday," murmured Peggy in ecstatic historical confusion, "or somebody noble and romantic and beheaded. I think I shall play at being Queen Mary. I once learned a piece about her. It was very sad, but I always stuck at the fifth line and had to sit down. Since we have to stay here till morning we might as well amuse ourselves and you may be Rizzio."

"Who was he?" asked her companion sceptically, "sounds like one of those Italian fellows."

"He was Queen Mary's chaperon," Peggy explained vaguely, "and he sang her love songs."

"Good," said the voice agreeably.

"Can't you think of something else for me?" said the unseen, gloomily appalled by the prospect of having doughnut recipes pronounced over his remains.

"How would you like to be Darnley?" said Peggy. "He was her husband." "I'll be Darnley," came from the darkness so decidedly that Peggy jumped.

"You have to get blown-up right off," she hastened to add. "Darnley did."

"Oh he did, did he?" the voice spoke with deeper gloom.

"Queen Mary did it," added Peggy.

"Well, even in the Dark Ages matrimony seems to have given your sex the same privileges," philosophized her companion cynically.

"How mean!" said Peggy coldly, "I shall play at being Elizabeth all alone."

"It wouldn't suit you," said her discarded leading man, "not with your voice."

"Why not?" said Peggy.

"Because it's not hard and cold and metallic enough. Because it has too much womanly sweetness in it and not enough harsh masculinity."

"What a good dramatic critic you would make!" said Peggy a little spitefully, "and since you are reading voices I can tell quite well by yours that you are fat and red faced."

The man laughed.

"And by the same token you are all sweetness and blue eyes and dearness and dimples," he punished her. Then the banter in his tones died suddenly out.

"There's something I want to tell you," he said abruptly, with a movement that seemed in the darkness like a sudden squaring of his shoulders. "But first I want you to tell me your name."

"What a sudden descent from romance and poetry to mere stupid facts," hedged Peggy. "Think, in this atmosphere of royalties if it should be Bridget, or, still more horrible, Mamie."

"Please," the voice persisted in its gravity, "we have been fellow-prisoners, you know, and you should be kind."

Peggy told him with the full three-syllabled dignity of the "Margaret."

"Mine," he continued, "is John Barrett."

"Now," cried Peggy, "if this were a proper adventure we have reached the place when I should be able to say, 'Why! not the Jack Barrett that Brother Billy knew at Harvard?' Then you would cry, 'And this is my old chum William's little sister Peggy that used to send him fudge!' and then everything would be all right. But I haven't any brother at all," she finished regretfully.

"And Harvard wasn't my college," said her companion. "However," he went on, "it would take more than the conventional backing of many brother Billies to put me right with you after I've told you what I have to tell you."

"Then don't do it," said Peggy softly.

"If I didn't know you'd find it out in a very few minutes I wouldn't," he confessed shamelessly. "But before I tell you I want you to know what finding you here meant to me. You've got to realize the temptation before you can understand the fall. You always got away from me, from that first time in Liverpool——"

"Oh!" said Peggy with a gasp.

"And at Paris and at Calais when you smiled adorably at me——"

"I didn't" said Peggy, blushing in the darkness.

"When you didn't smile adorably at me, then," pursued the voice relentlessly. "It was always the same. I found you and you were gone—snatched away by an unkind fate in the form of your man from Cook's. When you sailed away from me at Calais I was booked to leave that same day from Antwerp, but I came on here after you instead. London is small—the American tourist London, that is—the Abbey, the Museum, the galleries, and the Tower, but I seemed to miss you everywhere. It was fate again that sent me here to find you asleep in the corner."

"Now I know you are going to tell something very foolish," said Peggy reflectively, "when people begin to talk about fate like that you always find they are just trying to shift the responsibility."

"I want you to know it wasn't premeditated, however," pursued the voice. "It wasn't till the guard shut the door that I thought of it. You will believe that, won't you?" he pleaded.

The dimple appeared suddenly in Peggy's cheek. There came an echo from without of many footsteps.

"And so," she took up the tale quickly, "having nicely planned it all out you shook me rudely to wake me up, told me the door was locked, and that it was midnight when it was only four in the afternoon. And it wasn't at all necessary to shake me so hard," she continued, "because I woke up when you came in."

"Peggy you knew!" the voice cried with a sudden realization, "you knew and you stayed!" He caught her hand, and in the darkness she could feel his nearness. Then suddenly the door opened letting into the chapel a flood of bright sunlight. "Ladies and gentlemen," the sonorous voice of the old guard came to them, "this, in the words of Macaulay, is the saddest spot on earth," continued the mournful recital, even as, in happy contradiction, Peggy and her American, secure in their little recess, looked blissfully into each other's eyes.