Two or three days, perhaps more, perhaps less, had been spent in bed, where I was carefully attended, and treated, I believe, with as much judgement as the case required, and I was at length allowed to quit my bed, though not the chamber. I was now more able to make some observation on the place of my confinement.
The room, in appearance and furniture, resembled the best apartment in a farmer’s house; and the window, two stories high, looked into a backyard, or court, filled with domestic poultry. There were the usual domestic offices about this yard. I could distinguish the brewhouse and the barn, and I heard, from a more remote building, the lowing of the cattle, and other rural sounds, announcing a large and well-stocked farm. These were sights and sounds qualified to dispel any apprehension of immediate violence. Yet the building seemed ancient and strong, a part of the roof was battlemented,and the walls were of great thickness; lastly, I observed, with some unpleasant sensations, that the windows of my chamber had been lately secured with iron stanchions, and that the servants who brought me victuals, or visited my apartment to render other menial offices, always locked the door when they retired.
The comfort and cleanliness of my chamber were of true English growth, and such as I had rarely seen on the other side of the Tweed; the very old wainscot, which composed the floor and the panelling of the room, was scrubbed with a degree of labour which the Scottish housewife rarely bestows on her most costly furniture.
The whole apartments appropriated to my use consisted of the bedroom, a small parlour adjacent, within which was a still smaller closet having a narrow window which seemed anciently to have been used as a shot-hole, admitting, indeed, a very moderate portion of light and air, but without its being possible to see anything from it except the blue sky, and that only by mounting on a chair. There were appearances of a separate entrance into this cabinet, besides that which communicated with the parlour, but it had been recently built up, as I discovered by removing a piece of tapestry which covered the fresh mason-work. I found some of my clothes here, with linen and other articles, as well as my writing-case, containing pen, ink, and paper, which enables me, at my leisure (which, God knows, is undisturbed enough) to make this record of my confinement. It may be well believed, however, that I do not trust to the security of the bureau, but carry the written sheets about my person, so that I can only be deprived of them by actual violence. I also am cautious to write in the little cabinet only, so that I can hear any person approach me through the other apartments, and have time enough to put aside my journal before they come upon me.
The servants, a stout country fellow and a very pretty milkmaid-looking lass, by whom I am attended, seem of the true Joan and Hedge school, thinking of little and desiring nothing beyond the very limited sphere of their own duties or enjoyments, and having no curiosity whatever about the affairs of others. Their behaviour to me in particular, is, at the same time, very kind and very provoking. My table is abundantly supplied, and they seem anxious to comply with my taste in that department. But whenever I make inquiries beyond ‘what’s for dinner’, the brute of a lad baffles me by his ANAN, and his DUNNA KNAW, and if hard pressed, turns his back on me composedly, and leaves the room. The girl, too, pretends to be as simple as he; but an arch grin, which she cannot always suppress, seems to acknowledge that she understands perfectly well the game which she is playing, and is determined to keep me in ignorance. Both of them, and the wench in particular, treat me as they would do a spoiled child, and never directly refuse me anything which I ask, taking care, at the same time, not to make their words good by effectually granting my request. Thus, if I desire to go out, I am promised by Dorcas that I shall walk in the park at night, and see the cows milked, just as she would propose such an amusement to a child. But she takes care never to keep her word, if it is in her power to do so.
In the meantime, there has stolen on me insensibly an indifference to my freedom — a carelessness about my situation, for which I am unable to account, unless it be the consequence of weakness and loss of blood. I have read of men who, immured as I am, have surprised the world by the address with which they have successfully overcome the most formidable obstacles to their escape; and when I have heard such anecdotes, I have said to myself, that no one who is possessed only of a fragment of freestone, or a rusty nail to grind down rivets and to pick locks, having his full leisure to employ in the task, need continue the inhabitant of a prison. Here, however, I sit, day after day, without a single effort to effect my liberation.
Yet my inactivity is not the result of despondency, but arises, in part at least, from feelings of a very different cast. My story, long a mysterious one, seems now upon the verge of some strange development; and I feel a solemn impression that I ought to wait the course of events, to struggle against which is opposing my feeble efforts to the high will of fate. Thou, my Alan, wilt treat as timidity this passive acquiescence, which has sunk down on me like a benumbing torpor; but if thou hast remembered by what visions my couch was haunted, and dost but think of the probability that I am in the vicinity, perhaps under the same roof with G.M., thou wilt acknowledge that other feelings than pusillanimity have tended in some degree to reconcile me to my fate.
Still I own it is unmanly to submit with patience to this oppressive confinement. My heart rises against it, especially when I sit down to record my sufferings in this journal, and I am determined, as the first step to my deliverance, to have my letters sent to the post-house.
I am disappointed. When the girl Dorcas, upon whom I had fixed for a messenger, heard me talk of sending a letter, she willingly offered her services, and received the crown which I gave her (for my purse had not taken flight with the more valuable contents of my pocket-book) with a smile which showed her whole set of white teeth.
But when, with the purpose of gaining some intelligence respecting my present place of abode, I asked to which post-town she was to send or carry the letter, a stolid ‘ANAN’ showed me she was either ignorant of the nature of a post-office, or that, for the present, she chose to seem so. —‘Simpleton!’ I said, with some sharpness.
‘O Lord, sir!’ answered the girl, turning pale, which they always do when I show any sparks of anger, ‘Don’t put yourself in a passion — I’ll put the letter in the post.
‘What! and not know the name of the post-town?’ said I, out of patience. ‘How on earth do you propose to manage that?’
‘La you there, good master. What need you frighten a poor girl that is no schollard, bating what she learned at the Charity School of Saint Bees?’
‘Is Saint Bees far from this place, Dorcas? Do you send your letters there?’ said I, in a manner as insinuating, and yet careless, as I could assume.
‘Saint Bees! La, who but a madman — begging your honour’s pardon — it’s a matter of twenty years since fader lived at Saint Bees, which is twenty, or forty, or I dunna know not how many miles from this part, to the West, on the coast side; and I would not have left Saint Bees, but that fader’—
‘Oh, the devil take your father!’ replied I.
To which she answered, ‘Nay, but thof your honour be a little how-come-so, you shouldn’t damn folk’s faders; and I won’t stand to it, for one.’
‘Oh, I beg you a thousand pardons — I wish your father no ill in the world — he was a very honest man in his way.’
‘WAS an honest man!’ she exclaimed; for the Cumbrians are, it would seem, like their neighbours the Scotch, ticklish on the point of ancestry — ‘He IS a very honest man as ever led nag with halter on head to Staneshaw Bank Fair. Honest! He is a horse-couper.’
‘Right, right,’ I replied; ‘I know it — I have heard of your father-as honest as any horse-couper of them all. Why, Dorcas, I mean to buy a horse of him.’
‘Ah, your honour,’ sighed Dorcas, ‘he is the man to serve your honour well — if ever you should get round again — or thof you were a bit off the hooks, he would no more cheat you than’—
‘Well, well, we will deal, my girl, you may depend on’t. But tell me now, were I to give you a letter, what would you do to get it forward?’
‘Why, put it into Squire’s own bag that hangs in hall,’ answered poor Dorcas. ‘What else could I do? He sends it to Brampton, or to Carloisle, or where it pleases him, once a week, and that gate.’
‘Ah!’ said I; ‘and I suppose your sweetheart John carries it?’
‘Noa — disn’t now — and Jan is no sweetheart of mine, ever since he danced at his mother’s feast with Kitty Rutlege, and let me sit still; that a did.’
‘It was most abominable in Jan, and what I could never have thought of him,’ I replied.
‘Oh, but a did though — a let me sit still on my seat, a did.’
‘Well, well, my pretty May, you will get a handsomer fellow than Jan — Jan’s not the fellow for you, I see that.’
‘Noa, noa,’ answered the damsel; ‘but he is weel aneugh for a’ that, mon. But I carena a button for him; for there is the miller’s son, that suitored me last Appleby Fair, when I went wi’ oncle, is a gway canny lad as you will see in the sunshine.’
‘Aye, a fine stout fellow. Do you think he would carry my letter to Carlisle?’
‘To Carloisle! ‘Twould be all his life is worth; he maun wait on clap and hopper, as they say. Odd, his father would brain him if he went to Carloisle, bating to wrestling for the belt, or sic loike. But I ha’ more bachelors than him; there is the schoolmaster, can write almaist as weel as tou canst, mon.’
‘Then he is the very man to take charge of a letter; he knows the trouble of writing one.’
‘Aye, marry does he, an tou comest to that, mon; only it takes him four hours to write as mony lines. Tan, it is a great round hand loike, that one can read easily, and not loike your honour’s, that are like midge’s taes. But for ganging to Carloisle, he’s dead foundered, man, as cripple as Eckie’s mear.’
‘In the name of God,’ said I, ‘how is it that you propose to get my letter to the post?’
‘Why, just to put it into Squire’s bag loike,’ reiterated Dorcas; ‘he sends it by Cristal Nixon to post, as you call it, when such is his pleasure.’
Here I was, then, not much edified by having obtained a list of Dorcas’s bachelors; and by finding myself, with respect to any information which I desired, just exactly at the point where I set out. It was of consequence to me, however, to accustom, the girl to converse with me familiarly. If she did so, she could not always be on her guard, and something, I thought, might drop from her which I could turn to advantage.
‘Does not the Squire usually look into his letter-bag, Dorcas?’ said I, with as much indifference as I could assume.
‘That a does,’ said Dorcas; ‘and a threw out a letter of mine to Raff Miller, because a said’—
‘Well, well, I won’t trouble him with mine,’ said I, ‘Dorcas; but, instead, I will write to himself, Dorcas. But how shall I address him?’
‘Anan?’ was again Dorcas’s resource.
‘I mean how is he called? What is his name?’
‘Sure you honour should know best,’ said Dorcas.
‘I know? The devil! You drive me beyond patience.’
‘Noa, noa! donna your honour go beyond patience — donna ye now,’ implored the wench. ‘And for his neame, they say he has mair nor ane in Westmoreland and on the Scottish side. But he is but seldom wi’ us, excepting in the cocking season; and then we just call him Squoire loike; and so do my measter and dame.’
‘And is he here at present?’ said I.
‘Not he, not he; he is a buck-hoonting, as they tell me, somewhere up the Patterdale way; but he comes and gangs like a flap of a whirlwind, or sic loike.’
I broke off the conversation, after forcing on Dorcas a little silver to buy ribbons, with which she was so much delighted that she exclaimed, ‘God! Cristal Nixon may say his worst on thee; but thou art a civil gentleman for all him; and a quoit man wi’ woman folk loike.’
There is no sense in being too quiet with women folk, so I added a kiss with my crown piece; and I cannot help thinking that I have secured a partisan in Dorcas. At least, she blushed, and pocketed her little compliment with one hand, while, with the other, she adjusted her cherry-coloured ribbons, a little disordered by the struggle it cost me to attain the honour of a salute.
As she unlocked the door to leave the apartment, she turned back, and looking on me with a strong expression of compassion, added the remarkable words, ‘La — be’st mad or no, thou’se a mettled lad, after all.’
There was something very ominous in the sound of these farewell words, which seemed to afford me a clue to the pretext under which I was detained in confinement, My demeanour was probably insane enough, while I was agitated at once by the frenzy incident to the fever, and the anxiety arising from my extraordinary situation. But is it possible they can now establish any cause for confining me arising out of the state of my mind?
If this be really the pretext under which I am restrained from my liberty, nothing but the sedate correctness of my conduct can remove the prejudices which these circumstances may have excited in the minds of all who have approached me during my illness. I have heard — dreadful thought! — of men who, for various reasons, have been trepanned into the custody of the keepers of private madhouses, and whose brain, after years of misery, became at length unsettled, through irresistible sympathy with the wretched beings among whom they were classed. This shall not be my case, if, by strong internal resolution, it is in human nature to avoid the action of exterior and contagious sympathies.
Meantime I sat down to compose and arrange my thoughts, for my purposed appeal to my jailer — so I must call him — whom I addressed in the following manner; having at length, and after making several copies, found language to qualify the sense of resentment which burned in the first, drafts of my letter, and endeavoured to assume a tone more conciliating. I mentioned the two occasions on which he had certainly saved my life, when at the utmost peril; and I added, that whatever was the purpose of the restraint, now practised on me, as I was given to understand, by his authority, it could not certainly be with any view to ultimately injuring me. He might, I said, have mistaken me for some other person; and I gave him what account I could of my situation and education, to correct such an error. I supposed it next possible, that he might think me too weak for travelling, and not capable of taking care of myself; and I begged to assure him, that I was restored to perfect health, and quite able to endure the fatigue of a journey. Lastly, I reminded him, in firm though measured terms, that the restraint which I sustained was an illegal one, and highly punishable by the laws which protect the liberties of the subject. I ended by demanding that he would take me before a magistrate; or, at least, that he would favour me with a personal interview and explain his meaning with regard to me.
Perhaps this letter was expressed in a tone too humble for the situation of an injured man, and I am inclined to think so when I again recapitulate its tenor. But what could I do? I was in the power of one whose passions seem as violent as his means of gratifying them appear unbounded. I had reason, too, to believe (this to thee, Alan) that all his family did not approve of the violence of his conduct towards me; my object, in fine, was freedom, and who would not sacrifice much to attain it?
I had no means of addressing my letter excepting ‘For the Squire’s own hand.’ He could be at no great distance, for in the course of twenty-four hours I received an answer. It was addressed to Darsie Latimer, and contained these words: ‘You have demanded an interview with me. You have required to be carried before a magistrate. Your first wish shall be granted — perhaps the second also. Meanwhile, be assured that you are a prisoner for the time, by competent authority, and that such authority is supported by adequate power. Beware, therefore, of struggling with a force sufficient to crush you, but abandon yourself to that train of events by which we are both swept along, and which it is impossible that either of us can resist.’
These mysterious words were without signature of any kind, and left me nothing more important to do than to prepare myself for the meeting which they promised. For that purpose I must now break off, and make sure of the manuscript — so far as I can, in my present condition, be sure of anything — by concealing it within the lining of my coat, so as not to be found without strict search.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00