'On Angel Mountain' - Extract
From Chapter 15 of “On Angel Mountain”
Mistress Martha Morgan has been arrested, falsely charged with grand larceny, and whipped through the streets behind the whipping cart. Now she is thrown into jail to await trial. She writes this in her diary……..
I have just had to endure the
two most miserable, shameful and degrading days of my life.
I have been humiliated and dishonoured, and I am now incarcerated
in a filthy dungeon in Haverfordwest Gaol as I await my fate.
I have a searing pain on my back, and my injuries are still
bleeding. My dress is crusted with blood. I can hardly bear
to lie down, and I feel only slightly more comfortable when
I am sitting or standing. I am falsely charged with grand larceny,
and I will have to languish in this foul place until the middle
of September when I will be judged at the Quarter Sessions.
The evidence against me appears to be conclusive, and in the
absence of a miracle I fear that my fate will be either transportation
to the colonies or death on the gallows.
The dungeon which will be my home for the next six weeks is
in the basement of the old ruined castle, perched on a rock
high above the town. Outside the barred and glassless window
there is a sheer drop of a hundred feet down onto the roofs
of shops and houses. Escape is impossible, and the only way
in and out of my cell is through a hinged grille in the roof
secured by a heavy lock. The grille has to be lifted aside before
a flimsy ladder can be slid down to allow entry or exit. It
is searingly hot, for the summer heatwave continues unabated.
I am in solitary confinement, presumably because I am classified
as a dangerous criminal who might infect other prisoners with
indescribable wickedness if I was to come into contact with
them. The only items of furniture are a wooden bed against the
wall and a bucket in the corner. Three times a day I am given
black bread and thin soup to eat, and I can slake my thirst
from a flagon of water which sits upon the window sill. This
morning (as, I assume, will be the case on all mornings) I was
allowed a small bowl of water for washing and cleansing my wounds.
As I confront the prospect that my short life may soon come to an end, and as I seek to come to terms with my predicament, I am sitting with my little book and pen beside the window, making use of the last light of the evening. Today I was allowed one visitor, and my beloved Bessie brought a small bundle of my possessions. I had not had a chance to communicate with her, but she knew what to bring -- a small mirror and comb, a little bottle of lavender water, talcum powder and dressings for my wounds, a clean shawl and petticoat, two oranges, and my diary, a pot of ink and some sharpened quills. She had to part with a silver shilling in order to see me, and another one in order to leave her small bundle; but my jailer, a tough old woman called Mistress Griffin, does appear to have some humanity, and we must be grateful that she is open to bribery. Bessie was only allowed to spend five minutes with me, but that was enough for us to determine the actions which she urgently needed to take.