The Tower Of London by W. Harrison Ainsworth

GILBERT having freed himself from his bonds, and clambered into the chimney in the By-ward Tower in the manner previously related, ascended without any inconvenience, except what was occasioned by the pungent smoke arising from the blazing fagots beneath, until he reached the level of the upper story, where another fire-place, connected with the passage up which he was mounting, so narrowed its limits, that it seemed scarcely possible to proceed further. The sound of voices in the chamber on this floor also alarmed him, and for some minutes he suspended his labour to listen. But as nothing occurred to disturb him, and it was evident, from the conversation of the speakers, that he had not been noticed, he presently resumed his task, and redoubling his efforts, soon vanquished all obstacles, and gained the opening of the chimney.

Here a fresh difficulty awaited him; and one for which he was wholly unprepared. The smoke found a vent through a small circular opening or louver, as it was termed—for there was no chimney-top to disperse it to the air—in the battlements. Through this opening he must necessarily creep; and, provided he could accomplish the feat, he had to elude the vigilance of the sentinels stationed on the roof of the turret. Luckily, the night was profoundly dark; and the gloom, increased by a thick mist from the river, was so intense, that an object could scarcely be discerned at a foot’s distance. Thus favoured, Gilbert resolved to hazard the attempt.

Watching his opportunity, he drew himself cautiously through the louver, and without being noticed by the sentinel, who was standing beside it, crouched beneath the carriage of a culverin. In this state, he remained for a short time, meditating what course he should next pursue, and nerving himself for some desperate attempt, when a door at the side of the southern turret suddenly opened, and three men-at-arms, the foremost of whom carried a torch, came to relieve guard.

Aware that he should now infallibly be discovered, Gilbert started to his feet, and drawing a dagger which he had picked up in the giants’ chamber, stood upon his defence. The movement betrayed him. Though confounded by his appearance, the sentinel nearest him presented his partisan at his breast and commanded him to surrender. Gilbert answered by striking up the man’s arm, and instantly sprang over the battlements.

A loud splash told that he had fallen into the moat. The men held the torch over the side of the turret. But it was too dark to distinguish any object below. Presently, however, a noise was heard in the water that convinced them the fugitive was swimming for the opposite bank. One of the soldiers instantly discharged his caliver in the direction of the sound, but without effect.

This served as an alarm to the guards posted on the western ramparts, as well as to those on the Middle Tower, both of which commanded this part of the moat, and other shots were immediately fired. A signal was then rapidly passed from tower to tower, and from portal to portal, until it reached the Bulwark Gate, which formed the only entrance to the fortress on the west, and a body of armed men carrying lights instantly sallied forth and hurried towards the side of the moat.

Gilbert, meanwhile, swam for his life. Guided by the torches, which served to discover his enemies rather than to betray him, he effected a secure landing. But before he had climbed the steep bank, he was observed by a soldier, who, making towards him, shouted to his comrades for assistance. In the struggle that ensued, the torch borne by the soldier was extinguished, and bursting from him, Gilbert darted at a swift pace up Tower-hill. His pursuers were close upon him. But, well acquainted with the spot, he contrived to baffle them, by flinging himself beneath the permanent scaffold, then standing upon the brow of the eminence, and thus eluded observation. As soon as his foes had passed, he struck off swiftly to the left, and leaping a low wall, skirted All-hallows Church, and speedily gained Tower Street.

While Gilbert was flying in this direction, his pursuers finding themselves at fault, hastened back, and endeavoured to discover some trace of him. Some mounted the steps of the scaffold to see whether he had taken refuge on its blood-stained planks, some crept under it, others examined the posts of the neighbouring gallows, while a fourth party flew to the postern gate, which defended the southern extremity of the city wall, in the hope that he might have been stopped by the watch. All, however, it is needless to say, were disappointed. And after some time had been fruitlessly expended, the whole party returned to the Tower to report the unsuccessful issue of their expedition.

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