Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

a

straw mattresses. But at the farther end was a small apartment of rather a more decent appearance, that is, having less the air of a place of confinement, since, unless for the large lock and chain upon the door, and the crossed and ponderous stauncheons upon the window, it rather resembled the « worst inn's worst room.» It was designed as a sort of infirmary for prisoners whose state of health required some indulgence; and, in fact, Donald Laider, Bertram's destined chum, had been just dragged out of one of the two beds which it contained, to try whether clean straw and whisky might not have a better chance to cure his intermitting fever. This process of ejection had been carried into force by Mrs MacGuffog while her husband parleyed with Bertram in the court-yard, that good lady having a distinct presentiment of the manner in which the treaty must necessarily terminate. Apparently the expulsion had not taken place without some application of the strong hand, for one of the bed-posts of a sort of tent bed was broken down, so that the tester and curtains hung forward into the middle of the narrow chamber, like the banner of a chieftain, balf sinking amid the confusion of a combatia

« Never mind that being out o’sorts, captain, » said Mrs MacGuffog, who now followed them into the room; then, turning her back to the prisoner, with as much delicacy as the action admitted she whipped from her knee her ferret garter, and applied it to splicing and fastening the bro

ken bed-post—then used more pins than her

apparel could well spare to fasten up the bed-curtains in festoons, - then shook the bed-clothes into something like form then flung over all a tattered patch-work quilt, and pronounced that things were now something purpose-like.» « And there's your bed, captain,» pointing to a massy four-posted hulk, which, owing to the inequality of the floor that had sunk considerably, (the house, though new, having been built by contract) stood upon three legs, and held the fourth aloft as if pawing the air, and in the attitude of advancing like an elephant passant upon the pannel of a coach- « There's your bed and the blankets; but if ye want sheets, or bowster, or pillow, or ony sort o' napery for the table, or for your hands, ye'll hae to speak to me about it, for that's out o' the gudeman's line, (MacGuffog had by this time left the room, to avoid, probably, any appeal which might be made to him

upon this new exaction) and he never engages for ony thing like that. »

« In God's name," said Bertram, « let me have what is decent, and make any charge you please: »

« Aweel, aweel, that's sune settled; we'll no excise you neither, though we live sae near the custom-house. And I maun see to get you some fire and some dinner too, I'se warrant; but

your dinner will be but a puir ane the day, no expecting company that wad be nice and fashious.» -So saying, and in all haste, Mrs Mac-Guffog fetched a skuttle of live coals, and having re

a

» a

plenished «the rusty grate, unconscious of a fire» for months before, she proceeded with unwashed hands to arrange the stipulated bed-linen, (alas, how different from Ailie Dinmont's!) and, muttering to herself as she discharged her task, seemed, in inveterate spleen of temper, to grudge even those accommodations for which she was to receive payment. At length, however, she departed, grumbling between her teeth, that « she wad rather lock up a hail ward than be fiking about thae niff-naffy gentles that gae sae muckle fash wi’ their fancies.»

When she was gone, Bertram found himself reduced to the alternative of pacing his little apartment for exercise, or gazing out upon the sea in such proportions as could be seen from the narrow panes of his window, obscured by dirt and by close iron-bars, or reading over the records of brutal wit and blackguardism which despair had scrawled upon the half-whitened walls. The sounds were as uncomfortable as the objects of sight. The sullen dash of the tide, which was now retreating, and the occasional opening and shutting of a door, with all its accompaniments of jarring bolts and creaking hinges, mingled occasionally with the dull monotony of the retiring sound. Sometimes, too, he could hear the hoarse growl of the keeper, or the shriller tones of his help-mate, almost always in the tone of discontent, anger, or insolence. At other times the large mastiff, chained in the court-yard, answered with furious bark the in

sults of the idle loiterers who made a sport of incensing him.

At length the tedium of this weary space was broken by the entrance of a dirty-looking serving-wench, who made some preparations for dinner by laying a half-dirty cloth upon a wholedirty deal table. A knife and fork, which had not been worn out by overcleaning, flanked a cracked delf-plate; a nearly empty mustard-pot, placed on one side of the table, balanced a saltcellar, containing an article of a greyish or rather blackish mixture, upon the other, both of stoneware, and bearing too obvious marks of recent service. Shortly after, the same Hebe brought up a plate of beef collops, done in the fryingpan, with a huge allowance of grease, floating in an ocean of lukewarm water; and having added a coarse loaf to these savoury viands, she requested to know what liquors the gentleman chose to order. The appearance of this fare was not very inviting: but Bertram endeavoured to mend his commons by ordering wine, which he found tolerably good, and, with the assistance of some indifferent cheese, made his dinner chiefly upon the brown loaf. When his meal was over, the girl presented her master's compliments, and, if agreeable to the gentleman, he would help him to spend the evening. Bertram desired to be excused, and begged, instead of this gracious society, that he might be furnished with paper, pen, ink, and candles. The light appeared in the shape of one long

:

broken tallow-candle, inclining over a tin candlestick coated with grease : as for the writing materials, the prisoner was informed that he might have them the next day if he chose to send out to buy them. Bertram next desired the maid to procure him a book, and enforced his request with a shilling; in consequence of which, after long absence, she re-appeared with two odd volumes of the Newgate Kalendar which she had borrowed from Sam Silverquill, an idle apprentice, who was imprisoned under a charge of forgery. Having laid the books on the table she retired, and left Bertram to studies which were not ill adapted to his present melancholy situation.

« PreviousContinue »