In the morning, Sarah got up as usual when the bell rang and headed for the privies with the other residents, each carrying their chamber-pot. The woman who had the visitor in the night was just in front of her in the queue.
‘You should be ashamed of yourself,’ Sarah said.
The woman looked at her, eyebrows raised and mouth open. ‘What’ve I done?’
‘You know what, you whore.’
Without a further word, the woman tipped her pot over Sarah.
For several seconds, Sarah stood like a statue, shocked that this brazen hussy would do such a thing. Then she held her arms out and shook them. ‘Ugh!’ she uttered, and tried to pull her gown away from her body. A feeling of rage came over her, the like of which had never happened before. She could feel her hair stand on end. Her blood boiled. The assailant had retreated, but Sarah chased her and hit her on the back of the neck. The woman fell to the ground and Sarah jumped on her.
‘Get off her,’ someone said.
Sarah looked up and saw Miss Brody standing over her. She let go of the woman and got up, hair everywhere, wild. ‘She tipped her potty over me.’
‘That doesn’t mean you can beat her up. It must’ve been an accident.’
‘No, it wasn’t.’
‘You, on the ground, was it an accident?’
The woman nodded.
Sarah was upset with herself for forgetting Brody would side with the woman, after what took place last night. She knew she should have kept quiet. Why she had become violent she had no idea. She could only put it down to the frustrations of asylum life and to living with Henry and his ways for so long.
(cover showing Peterloo Massacre, Manchester, UK, 1819)
‘Come with me,’ Brody said and led her down a corridor she hadn’t been in.
It was darker and mustier than the rest of the building. They stopped at an iron door with a large latch. Brody raised it and opened the door.
Sarah peered into the room. It was pitch dark. Brody pushed her and she stumbled in.
‘Don’t bother screaming or calling out. The walls are an arm’s length thick.’ Brody smiled and shut the door and locked it.
Sarah held her hand out in front of her and brought it towards her face, right up close, but she couldn’t see any part of it. This was worse than a Manchester cellar. She wondered how long she would have to stay there, hoping it was no more than a few hours. Arms outstretched, she could touch both side walls at the same time. In a corner, she found a chamber-pot. What felt like a blanket was in another corner. There was nothing she could do but lie on the floor and wait. She wasn’t that frightened, knowing no one could get her while she was in this room – not the young woman, or the other inmates, or the people outside. And there would be no rats or mice either. The walls would keep everything out, she was sure. She drifted off to sleep, almost happy to be where she was and knowing no harm would come to her.
But later she woke to see shadows dancing around the walls and cried with fright. She banged on the door but no one came. Finally she collapsed on the floor and pressed her hands against her face. She stayed like this a long time. Just when she felt she could take it no longer, the door opened. The dwarf from the dining room had brought her a bowl of food and a little candle.
‘Your supper,’ the dwarf said.
‘Supper? I haven’t had dinner yet. When are they going to let me out of here?’
‘I don’t know, Ma’am. I just work here and do as I’m told and stay out of trouble, Ma’am. Goodnight.’ With all her strength, the woman closed the door behind her.
Sarah’s meal was broth, probably the water potatoes had been cooked in. She stood up to stretch her legs, before lying down again. Her mind wandered from life at Middleton, to Albert and if he was still alive, to how her children were coping, to whether Henry would eventually visit her and maybe somehow get her out of this place.
Next day, the same woman came with a breakfast of watery corn meal. Again she didn’t get any dinner. Supper was more broth, and a small piece of bread. And so it went on, day after day. She got very hungry, and her persecutors kept at her despite the thick walls.
One night she heard two voices talking about her. Neither seemed to belong to anyone in the asylum. She blew out her candle and pushed herself as far into the corner as possible, not making a sound, hoping the owners of the voices would think she wasn’t there and go away. She knew the door was shut and bolted, but somehow her tormenters had found her and got inside the room. She lay in a cold sweat as she tried to make out what they were saying. Much of it was garbled, but she was sure one of them said they would see she never left this room for the rest of her life. Later in the night, she saw strange forms leaping from wall to wall, near the ceiling. She put her head under the blanket. She didn’t know if she got any sleep.
When she heard the door open in the morning, she was surprised to see Brody instead of the dwarf.
(end of excerpt)
My historical novel, A Weaver’s Web, can be obtained from the following:
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H52SEEK
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H52SEEK
Amazon Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00H52SEEK