For the Term of His Natural Life, by Marcus Clarke

Chapter VIII.

Extracted from the Diary of the Rev. James North.

October 21st. — I am safe for another six months if I am careful, for my last bout lasted longer than I expected. I suppose one of these days I shall have a paroxysm that will kill me. I shall not regret it.

I wonder if this familiar of mine — I begin to detest the expression — will accuse me of endeavouring to make a case for myself if I say that I believe my madness to be a disease? I do believe it. I honestly can no more help getting drunk than a lunatic can help screaming and gibbering. It would be different with me, perhaps, were I a contented man, happily married, with children about me, and family cares to distract me. But as I am — a lonely, gloomy being, debarred from love, devoured by spleen, and tortured with repressed desires — I become a living torment to myself. I think of happier men, with fair wives and clinging children, of men who are loved and who love, of Frere for instance — and a hideous wild beast seems to stir within me, a monster, whose cravings cannot be satisfied, can only be drowned in stupefying brandy.

Penitent and shattered, I vow to lead a new life; to forswear spirits, to drink nothing but water. Indeed, the sight and smell of brandy make me ill. All goes well for some weeks, when I grow nervous, discontented, moody. I smoke, and am soothed. But moderation is not to be thought of; little by little I increase the dose of tobacco. Five pipes a day become six or seven. Then I count up to ten and twelve, then drop to three or four, then mount to eleven at a leap; then lose count altogether. Much smoking excites the brain. I feel clear, bright, gay. My tongue is parched in the morning, however, and I use liquor to literally “moisten my clay”. I drink wine or beer in moderation, and all goes well. My limbs regain their suppleness, my hands their coolness, my brain its placidity. I begin to feel that I have a will. I am confident, calm, and hopeful. To this condition succeeds one of the most frightful melancholy. I remain plunged, for an hour together, in a stupor of despair. The earth, air, sea, all appear barren, colourless. Life is a burden. I long to sleep, and sleeping struggle to awake, because of the awful dreams which flap about me in the darkness. At night I cry, “Would to God it were morning!” In the morning, “Would to God it were evening!” I loathe myself, and all around me. I am nerveless, passionless, bowed down with a burden like the burden of Saul. I know well what will restore me to life and ease — restore me, but to cast me back again into a deeper fit of despair. I drink. One glass — my blood is warmed, my heart leaps, my hand no longer shakes. Three glasses — I rise with hope in my soul, the evil spirit flies from me. I continue — pleasing images flock to my brain, the fields break into flower, the birds into song, the sea gleams sapphire, the warm heaven laughs. Great God! what man could withstand a temptation like this?

By an effort, I shake off the desire to drink deeper, and fix my thoughts on my duties, on my books, on the wretched prisoners. I succeed perhaps for a time; but my blood, heated by the wine which is at once my poison and my life, boils in my veins. I drink again, and dream. I feel all the animal within me stirring. In the day my thoughts wander to all monstrous imaginings. The most familiar objects suggest to me loathsome thoughts. Obscene and filthy images surround me. My nature seems changed. By day I feel myself a wolf in sheep’s clothing; a man possessed by a devil, who is ready at any moment to break out and tear him to pieces. At night I become a satyr. While in this torment I at once hate and fear myself. One fair face is ever before me, gleaming through my hot dreams like a flying moon in the sultry midnight of a tropic storm. I dare not trust myself in the presence of those whom I love and respect, lest my wild thoughts should find vent in wilder words. I lose my humanity. I am a beast. Out of this depth there is but one way of escape. Downwards. I must drench the monster I have awakened until he sleeps again. I drink and become oblivious. In these last paroxysms there is nothing for me but brandy. I shut myself up alone and pour down my gullet huge draughts of spirit. It mounts to my brain. I am a man again! and as I regain my manhood, I topple over — dead drunk.

But the awakening! Let me not paint it. The delirium, the fever, the self-loathing, the prostration, the despair. I view in the looking-glass a haggard face, with red eyes. I look down upon shaking hands, flaccid muscles, and shrunken limbs. I speculate if I shall ever be one of those grotesque and melancholy beings, with bleared eyes and running noses, swollen bellies and shrunken legs! Ugh! — it is too likely.

October 22nd. — Have spent the day with Mrs. Frere. She is evidently eager to leave the place — as eager as I am. Frere rejoices in his murderous power, and laughs at her expostulations. I suppose men get tired of their wives. In my present frame of mind I am at a loss to understand how a man could refuse a wife anything.

I do not think she can possibly care for him. I am not a selfish sentimentalist, as are the majority of seducers. I would take no woman away from a husband for mere liking. Yet I think there are cases in which a man who loved would be justified in making a woman happy at the risk of his own — soul, I suppose.

Making her happy! Ay, that’s the point. Would she be happy? There are few men who can endure to be “cut”, slighted, pointed at, and women suffer more than men in these regards. I, a grizzled man of forty, am not such an arrant ass as to suppose that a year of guilty delirium can compensate to a gently-nurtured woman for the loss of that social dignity which constitutes her best happiness. I am not such an idiot as to forget that there may come a time when the woman I love may cease to love me, and having no tie of self-respect, social position, or family duty, to bind her, may inflict upon her seducer that agony which he has taught her to inflict upon her husband. Apart from the question of the sin of breaking the seventh commandment, I doubt if the worst husband and the most unhappy home are not better, in this social condition of ours, than the most devoted lover. A strange subject this for a clergyman to speculate upon! If this diary should ever fall into the hands of a real God-fearing, honest booby, who never was tempted to sin by finding that at middle-age he loved the wife of another, how he would condemn me! And rightly, of course.

November 4th. — In one of the turnkey’s rooms in the new gaol is to be seen an article of harness, which at first creates surprise to the mind of the beholder, who considers what animal of the brute creation exists of so diminutive a size as to admit of its use. On inquiry, it will be found to be a bridle, perfect in head-band, throat-lash, etc., for a human being. There is attached to this bridle a round piece of cross wood, of almost four inches in length, and one and a half in diameter. This again, is secured to a broad strap of leather to cross the mouth. In the wood there is a small hole, and, when used, the wood is inserted in the mouth, the small hole being the only breathing space. This being secured with the various straps and buckles, a more complete bridle could not be well imagined.

I was in the gaol last evening at eight o’clock. I had been to see Rufus Dawes, and returning, paused for a moment to speak to Hailey. Gimblett, who robbed Mr. Vane of two hundred pounds, was present, he was at that time a turnkey, holding a third-class pass, and in receipt of two shillings per diem. Everything was quite still. I could not help remarking how quiet the gaol was, when Gimblett said, “There’s someone speaking. I know who that is.” And forthwith took from its pegs one of the bridles just described, and a pair of handcuffs.

I followed him to one of the cells, which he opened, and therein was a man lying on his straw mat, undressed, and to all appearance fast asleep. Gimblett ordered him to get up and dress himself. He did so, and came into the yard, where Gimblett inserted the iron-wood gag in his mouth. The sound produced by his breathing through it (which appeared to be done with great difficulty) resembled a low, indistinct whistle. Gimblett led him to the lamp-post in the yard, and I saw that the victim of his wanton tyranny was the poor blind wretch Mooney. Gimblett placed him with his back against the lamp-post, and his arms being taken round, were secured by handcuffs round the post. I was told that the old man was to remain in this condition for three hours. I went at once to the Commandant. He invited me into his drawing-room — an invitation which I had the good sense to refuse — but refused to listen to any plea for mercy. “The old impostor is always making his blindness an excuse for disobedience,” said he. — And this is her husband.

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