Tasman Excerpt #2 Newgate
The following is a glimpse inside the book, Tasman: An Innocent Convict’s Struggle for Freedom.
Back story: The local constable has hauled Ean into London with no comment as to why.
From the novel:
As we entered the edge of city the workers extinguished the gas lights, street sweeps and gawkers laughed at me and spit at my feet. Lavender ladies whispered behind their hands as they strolled to their rooms to rest up for tonight’s return to their corners where they stood to entice men to their beds.
The jumble shops stood open; their bric-a-brac crowding onto the sidewalks to tempt early passersby. Outside a bakery a handful of muffin boys carried overflowing baskets of fresh buns to sell along the streets. My stomach growled as the aroma of breakfast breads trailed behind each lad.
The sun climbed toward midday as we entered London Town proper. Newgate Gaol loomed directly ahead. My heart plummeted as we moved through its entrance. Only serious criminals were brought to Newgate. Last year, when I accompanied Master John to town, we walked along this same cobbled street. I remember seeing prisoners, stretching their hands out the narrow windows, begging for coins. I shuddered. Why was I here?
The constable spoke to a guard. The three of us descended a spiral stairway, passing through iron-spiked wooden doors where turnkeys, dressed in black, jiggled their heavy ring of keys in my face and grinned. The smell of stale food, splashed beer and unwashed bodies surrounded me. The further we descended, the more the stench settled on my skin like dried sea salt.
We moved deeper and deeper into the gaol, passing iron-gated rooms overflowing with drunken men and dirty-skirted doxies whistling and hooting at my misfortune. Many reached out their hands to gab my tunic. I pushed past them.
The stone passages narrowed, the light dimmed and the air cooled. The constable removed a torch from the stone wall as we approached yet another door. He yanked the rope around my neck, forcing me to an abrupt stop. The turnkey opened the iron bars, pushed me inside and relocked the door.
I stumbled forward, smashing my face against the dank, stone floor. Stars flashed before my eyes. My head throbbed and my skin became slick as if I’d spent a day at the presses. I sat up ands crawled to the door. “Let me out! I can’t breathe!”
I heard shifting and scuffling. A stout prisoner approached. “Can’t handle the dim light, huh? Get used to it.” He shoved his foot into my chest to keep me pinned to the floor. Just as suddenly he moved away his foot, grabbed me with both hands and hauled me to my feet. “What’s your crime, lad?” he said.
“Nothing!” I twisted, but he pinned me against the cell door.
Shuffling sounded in the dark corners. Men in clanking leg irons emerged from the shadows to encircle me, looking for a fight.
The stout prisoner bellowed, “Liar!” and banged me against the door again and again. Whose purse did you lift or was it the skirt of a pretty lass?”
“Neither. I did nothing wrong, I swear!”
My tormentor loosened his grip. I sank to the cold, damp floor and curled up like a newborn. Every part of my body ached. Nothing I could say would satisfy the stout man. I inhaled and focused on the hall torch light spreading flickers of light along the passage beyond the bars, praying the man would soon tire of having his sport with me.
Long minutes later when the prison gaoler returned the men backed into the shadows. He cleared his throat and read my crimes aloud. “Ean McClaud, you are accused of stealing a silk handkerchief and three silver spoons from Lord Colridge of Langstone. Your trial will commence in one week’s time.”
The words slapped me like a hand against my face. “I have taken no handkerchief or silver spoons, sir!”
The gaoler ignored me as he removed my wrist chains but double-ironed my ankles. He nodded toward my ankles. “For three shillings each, I’ll remove these irons,” he said.
“I have no money!”
He laughed, backed out the door and slammed it shut. The only sound that lingered was a slow, irregular drip from somewhere in a dark corner.
If you would like to reserve a copy of Tasman, please contact me through this blog or through www.paddyeger.com so I can set aside and autograph a copy for you once the book arrive.