Chapter 22

Look round thee, young Astolpho: Here’s the place
Which men (for being poor) are sent to starve in;—
Rude remedy, I trow, for sore disease.
Within these walls, stifled by damp and stench,
Doth Hope’s fair torch expire; and at the snuff,
Ere yet ’tis quite extinct, rude, wild, and wayward,
The desperate revelries of wild despair,
Kindling their hell-born cressets, light to deeds
That the poor captive would have died ere practised,
Till bondage sunk his soul to his condition.

The Prison, Scene III. Act I.

At my first entrance I turned an eager glance towards my conductor; but the lamp in the vestibule was too low in flame to give my curiosity any satisfaction by affording a distinct perusal of his features. As the turnkey held the light in his hand, the beams fell more full on his own scarce less interesting figure. He was a wild shock-headed looking animal, whose profusion of red hair covered and obscured his features, which were otherwise only characterised by the extravagant joy that affected him at the sight of my guide. In my experience I have met nothing so absolutely resembling my idea of a very uncouth, wild, and ugly savage, adoring the idol of his tribe. He grinned, he shivered, he laughed, he was near crying, if he did not actually cry. He had a “Where shall I go?—What can I do for you?” expression of face; the complete, surrendered, and anxious subservience and devotion of which it is difficult to describe, otherwise than by the awkward combination which I have attempted. The fellow’s voice seemed choking in his ecstasy, and only could express itself in such interjections as “Oigh, oigh,—Ay, ay—it’s lang since she’s seen ye!” and other exclamations equally brief, expressed in the same unknown tongue in which he had communicated with my conductor while we were on the outside of the jail door. My guide received all this excess of joyful gratulation much like a prince too early accustomed to the homage of those around him to be much moved by it, yet willing to requite it by the usual forms of royal courtesy. He extended his hand graciously towards the turnkey, with a civil inquiry of “How’s a’ wi’ you, Dougal?”

“Oigh, oigh!” exclaimed Dougal, softening the sharp exclamations of his surprise as he looked around with an eye of watchful alarm—“Oigh, to see you here—to see you here—Oigh, what will come o’ ye gin the bailies suld come to get witting—ta filthy, gutty hallions, tat they are?”

My guide placed his finger on his lip, and said, “Fear nothing, Dougal; your hands shall never draw a bolt on me.”

“Tat sall they no,” said Dougal; “she suld—she wad—that is, she wishes them hacked aff by the elbows first—But when are ye gaun yonder again? and ye’ll no forget to let her ken—she’s your puir cousin, God kens, only seven times removed.”

“I will let you ken, Dougal, as soon as my plans are settled.”

“And, by her sooth, when you do, an it were twal o’ the Sunday at e’en, she’ll fling her keys at the provost’s head or she gie them anither turn, and that or ever Monday morning begins—see if she winna,”

My mysterious stranger cut his acquaintance’s ecstasies short by again addressing him, in what I afterwards understood to be the Irish, Earse, or Gaelic, explaining, probably, the services which he required at his hand. The answer, “Wi’ a’ her heart—wi’ a’ her soul,” with a good deal of indistinct muttering in a similar tone, intimated the turnkey’s acquiescence in what he proposed. The fellow trimmed his dying lamp, and made a sign to me to follow him.

“Do you not go with us?” said I, looking to my conductor.

“It is unnecessary,” he replied; “my company may be inconvenient for you, and I had better remain to secure our retreat.”

“I do not suppose you mean to betray me to danger?” said I.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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