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The Celt

Pentonville Prison, 1916

When they opened the door to his cell, the street noise that the stone walls had muffled came in along with the stream of light and a blast of wind. Roger woke in alarm. Blinking, still confused, struggling to calm down, he saw the silhouette of the sheriff leaning in the doorway, his flabby face, with its blond moustache and reproachful little eyes, contemplating him with a dislike the jailer had never tried to hide. This was someone who would suffer if the British government granted his request for clemency.

‘Visitor,’ muttered the sheriff, not taking his eyes off the prisoner.

He stood, rubbing his arms. How long had he slept? Not knowing the time was one of the torments of Pentonville. In Brixton Prison and the Tower of London he had heard the bells that marked the half-hour and the hour; here, thick walls kept the clamour of the church bells along the Caledonian Road and the noise of Islington Market from reaching the prison interior, and the guards posted at the door strictly obeyed the order not to speak to him. The sheriff put handcuffs on the prisoner and indicated that he should follow him. Was his lawyer bringing good news? Had the Cabinet met and reached a decision? Perhaps the sheriff’s gaze was more filled than ever with the anger Roger inspired in him because his sentence had been commuted. They walked down the long passageway of red brick blackened by grime, past the metal doors of the cells and the discoloured walls where every twenty or twenty-five paces a high barred window allowed him to glimpse a small piece of grey sky.

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