Monday, March 27, 2017

SAVED FROM A LIFETIME IN PRISON? .. 3/27/17

There ain't no pictures, moving or otherwise with this one. Him what scribbles this account searched for 'em, but them what collects 'em ain't got none. Who wants to see the sad, anguished mugs of them with freshly plucked eyes (both if they were really wicked), or shit holes burnt shut? Aye they did such things to them in the cells. They did worse. But I'm gonna tell ye what they done to me.

Cotched me on the highway, they did. Marked me for a bandit. I tell 'em I'm just bound for me aunt's house in York, but they ain't havin' none of it. Says - How come ye by a gent's watch?.... I tell 'em me pa gimme it when he died. Won it in the Alderton Lottery. Judge goes - Oi! Ain't them tickets a bit dear for such as ye, boy? Goes for a quid a piece they does..... Them watchin' the show starts suckin' they teeth like rats what been feastin' on a gristly pig. Then the 'Jolly Man' (every judge got one) starts yellin' - Hang 'im! Hang 'im! Hang 'im!  And the rest start stampin' they feet....

Judge bangs his little judge hammer and yells - Oi! I does the condemnin' 'round here! Shut up, ye poxie bastards, or I'll have the left hand of every livin' one a yeh!.... Then he snaps his fingers and the assistant bailiff hold up his left arm what end in a rusty hook.... Judge goes - Took his'n I did. What did I take it for, Johnny-boy?.... Johnny-boy addles his brain a bit and then says - Clickin' me heels on a Sunday morning. Couldn't take me feet, 'cause him what does the deed lost his foot-cuttin'-knife to a fancy man in settlement of a whore bill, I believe, so ye take me hand instead.

Dirty sod in the third row goes - If it please Your Worship, the scrawnier flea bitten hag behind me want's to know why ain't he lost both of 'em?..... Judge asks - Why, Johnny-boy?... Johnny-boy giggles and shrugs... So does the crowd.... Judge says - Hummm, let me take note of that.... Johnny-boy swallows a giggle and the rest goes quiet too. Regency English justice can be a very tricky proposition at times.

Then they go back to me.  I tell 'em 'bout me aunt and how I bring her laudanum, 'cause them what live upstairs say she howls and wails too much and how she can't help it 'cause a them chickens keep peckin' her legs..... Judge asks - Is she insane ?.... I go - No, sir. Taxes is higher for them what coops 'em up, so landlord says she gotta keep 'em in with her. But they forgive four pence a week on the rent...... They all look at me and I add - Maybe she is crazy.

Judge sighs, takes a bit of fortification (grog), scratches his ear and says - There's still the question of the watch. How come ye by it?... And he holds it up for the crowd. Few even understand the idea of regularly measured time, let alone own such a coveted object of status and desire.... The judge asks - Solid gold?..... I nod. What could I do? There's a stamp on it. He's bound to see that, probably already has. The room goes quiet. I have no friends in that congregation, for church is what it was. True courthouses were few and far between, so was truth, or the recognition of it.

Nine hundred heartbeats later I was guilty. The crowd cheered. The judge bowed. He held the watch even higher. They roared. The first bailiff, in possession of all his hands, plus four men at arms, led me off to prison, a thick walled, stucco over brick wing attached to the county poor house. Then they put me in a cell and locked the solid (save for a small face sized shutter operated from the outside) iron door. I was 'home,' a five foot by seven foot, slate floored chamber with a rough, wood 'sleep shelf' along the far wall, a rolled up thick quilt that served as a mattress, a thinner one for a cover and what looked like it might have once been a pillow. Under the shelf was a slop bucket. Light entered via a small, dinner plate sized porthole up by the ceiling, ten feet above the floor. The walled were whitewashed, as was the outside. But the bright color only made the roaches ever more visible.

No effort was made to find the people responsible for the Alderton Lottery. Who knew if it was still in existence? The watch wasn't even first prize. That was a 'gentleman's' farm with a brick, more or less 'manor' house near Londonderry. Chits for all the big contests went for a quid a piece. The judge was very familiar with that. Perhaps he's addicted? No effort was made to find my family. They'd either ship me to the Antipodes, imprison me for life, or hang me...

Before dark they brought me a bowl of  stew.

The next day I got a small crate that served as a table and an Anglican Bible. I fell into a routine... meals... empty the slop bucket.... one hour in the small, brick walled yard (always alone)... clean clothes every Saturday, plus a trip to the wash room. I asked for writing materials. No one answered. I'm told there were seven other souls in residence, not counting the eighty or so in the poor house. But the walls in the prison were so thick I heard nothing.

I prayed. I wept. I went numb.

That's how it was.

In ninety days I'd learn my fate.

I am Lawrence Edgerton and all these words are true.

<more next time>

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