The Tower Of London by W. Harrison Ainsworth

“Poh! poh!” rejoined Wolfytt, gruffly. “You are going to Master Nightgall’s bower.”

“His bower!” exclaimed Xit, surprised by the term, “what! where he keeps Cicely?”

At the mention of this name, Nightgall, who had hitherto maintained a profound silence, uttered an exclamation of anger, and regarded the dwarf with a withering look.

“I can keep a secret if need be,” continued Xit, in a deprecatory tone, alarmed at his own indiscretion. “Neither Cuthbert Cholmondeley, nor Dame Potentia, nor any one else, shall hear of her from me, if you desire it, good Master Nightgall.”

“Peace!” thundered the jailer.

“You will get an extra turn of the rack for your folly, you crack-brained jackanapes,” laughed Wolfytt.

Luckily the remark did not reach Xit’s ears. He was too much frightened by Nightgall’s savage look to attend to anything else.

They had now reached a third door, which Nightgall unlocked and fastened as soon as the others had passed through it. The passage they entered was even darker and damper than the one they had quitted. It contained a number of cells, some of which, as was evident from the groans that issued from them, were tenanted.

“Is Alexia here?” inquired Xit, whose blood froze in his veins as he listened to the dreadful sounds.

“Alexia!” vociferated Nightgall, in a terrible voice. “What do you know of her?”

“Oh, nothing, nothing,” replied Xit. “But I have heard Cuthbert Cholmondeley speak of her.”

“She is dead,” replied Nightgall, in a sombre voice; “and I will bury you in the same grave with her, if her name ever passes your lips again.”

“It shall not, worthy sir,” returned Xit, “it shall not. Curse on my unlucky tongue, which is for ever betraying me into danger!”

They had now arrived at an arched doorway in the wall, which being opened by Nightgall, discovered a flight of steps leading to some chamber beneath. Nightgall descended, but Xit refused to follow him.

“I know where you are taking me,” he cried. “This is the way to the torture-chamber.”

Wolfytt burst into a loud laugh, and pushed him forward.

“I won’t go,” screamed Xit, struggling with all his force against the tormentor. “You have no authority to treat me thus. Help! kind Og! good Gog! dear Magog!—help! or I shall be lamed for life. I shall never more be able to amuse you with my gambols, or the tricks that so much divert you. Help! help! I say.”

“Your cries are in vain,” cried Wolfytt, kicking him down the steps; “no one can save you now.”

Precipitated violently downwards, Xit came in contact with Nightgall, whom he upset, and they both rolled into the chamber beneath, where the latter arose, and would have resented the affront upon his comrade, or, at all events, upon the dwarf, if he had not been in the presence of one of whom he stood in the greatest awe. This was Simon Renard, who was writing at a table. Disturbed by the noise, the ambassador glanced round, and on perceiving the cause immediately resumed his occupation. Near him stood the thin erect figure of Sorrocold, his attenuated limbs appearing yet more meagre from the tight-fitting black hose in which they were enveloped. The chirurgeon wore a short cloak of sad-coloured cloth, and a doublet of the same material. His head was covered by a flat black cap, and a pointed beard terminated his hatchet-shaped, cadaverous face. His hands rested on a long staff, and his dull heavy eyes were fixed upon the ground.

At a short distance from Sorrocold, stood Mauger, bare-headed and stripped to his leathern doublet, his arms folded upon his bosom, and his gaze bent upon Renard, whose commands he awaited. Nightgall’s accident called a smile to his grim countenance, but it instantly faded away, and gave place to his habitual sinister expression.

Such were the formidable personages in whose presence Xit found himself. Nor was the chamber less calculated to strike terror into his breast than its inmates. It was not the torture-room visited by Cholmondeley, when he explored the subterranean passages of the fortress, but another and larger chamber contiguous to the former, yet separated from it by a wall of such thickness that no sound could penetrate through it. It was square-shaped, with a deep round-arched recess on the right of the entrance, at the further end of which was a small cell, surmounted with a pointed arch. On the side where Renard sat, the wall was decorated with thumb-screws, gauntlets, bracelets, collars, pincers, saws, chains, and other nameless implements of torture. To the ceiling was affixed a stout pulley with a rope, terminated by an iron hook, and two leathern shoulder-straps. Opposite the door-way stood a brasier, filled with blazing coals, in which a huge pair of pincers were thrust; and beyond it was the wooden frame of the rack, already described, with its ropes and levers in readiness. Reared against the side of the deep dark recess, previously mentioned, was a ponderous wheel, as broad in the felly as that of a waggon, and twice the circumference. This antiquated instrument of torture was placed there to strike terror into the breasts of those who beheld it, but it was rarely used. Next to it was a heavy bar of iron employed to break the limbs of the sufferers tied to its spokes.

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