“Young woman, you do realize, if you could be with child, you may plead your belly?” The judge had tired eyes.
Eliza remained quiet, and the audience tittered.
“Very well. Elizabeth Jane Morton, you are sentenced to be taken hence to the prison in which you were last confined where, after three Sundays have passed, you will be hanged by the neck until dead. May the Lord God have mercy upon your soul.”
Gypsy…succubus…witch—murmurs, as she was lead away.
Had they looked beyond the snow white skin, wild black curls, and eerie calm, they’d have seen the bones of her knuckles shining through her skin; she held her hands clenched painfully tight to keep from lashing out at all of them and going absolutely mad.
A cell to myself at the end of a narrow, gloomy hall. Dank, always cold. Oozing drips stain walls rust-brown. Insanity—cackles, moans, and screams. Fleas, mice, and slithering sounds in the darkness. A cot and rough blanket. A long bench to sit upon. Small comforts from charity Ladies; they bring gifts, the smell of perfume, and pity. New pleasures—ink, quill pens, and paper. Solace.
Eliza fought slumber; it crawled with dark dreams and beckoned with greedy fingers. Hours, long and black, were spent struggling to cling to awareness, her life dwindling away.
Regrets stung. Time was short, and peace was as elusive as life. Insanity promised everlasting oblivion, and she was tempted to succumb. Writing gave her temporary respite. There was no one to write, so she wrote for herself, poems, thoughts, letters she would never send.
Do you sleep peacefully?
Do your children fare well without their governess in their nursery? Despite what you have done, my prayers are with their poor little souls.
I wonder where you hid the necklace and if it calls to you in your dreams. Will it haunt you, as surely I will if there is a God and he grants wishes?
My life is forfeit and still I would rather this death than your wrinkled hands upon me.
Elizabeth Jane Morton
She folded her notes into tiny paper birds and sailed them into the courtyard. Sometimes, they landed in the shadows of the gallows themselves, but usually the wind caught them and carried them away to join the plentiful refuse littering London’s streets.
A “new” dress—top too tight, tattered skirt. A string to tie my hair—blessed relief. Small things mean so much.
She documented everything, writing furiously, clinging to sanity.
A hanging—crowd swelling, sudden, and boisterous, fathers lifting children upon their shoulders, vendors selling meat-pies and posies. It was like a country fair, everyone smiling, fun in the air.
Her mind screamed, ‘Don’t! Look away!’ but she was compelled to watch.
They led the prisoner out. His head was down, but Eliza saw the glistening tears on his death-pale flesh. Placed under the gallows, his feet centered atop the wooden trapdoor, he wept openly.
His legs were pinioned, to prevent his soon to be flailing feet from finding purchase on the brick-lined walls of the famous Long-Drop below. The noose was fitted, a large knot of rope adjusted to rest, just so, beneath his left ear.
The hangman—cloaked in black—the very specter of death.
The prisoner wailed—a high-pitched whine—when the hood was placed over his head. Did he open his eyes then, when the cloth covered his face? Did his lashes catch on the fabric, and did he take it in his mouth, dry and musky, as he gulped air, grunting and snorting? Did each prisoner have a new hood, or did that frantic man, about to die, smell the deaths that had come before his, lingering in the cloth?
Ghastly, snapping sound ringing out of the pit. Imagined? Surely so; the crowd had cheered when the man fell out of sight.
Life passes too slowly, too quickly. What prayer will save me from this fate?
Eliza was sleeping the first time he came, at dusk.
“Don’t be afraid.”
She was—trapped in here, weak from lack of real food and sunshine; she was helpless.
The man sat on the narrow bench. He was rather fine looking, his face somewhat stern, and his clothing somber. A cleric, Eliza decided, calming.
“Has that much time passed? It must have, for them to send you.”
“I want to help you.”
She held back a bitter reply; no one could help her. “I don’t believe in God.”
“I am the only one you need to believe in.” He spread his hands wide, as if to dare her to argue that he was anything less than flesh and blood.
Eliza remained silent and he reached into his pocket, pulling out a square of paper. He read, “Life passes too slowly, too quickly. What prayer will save me from this fate?”
“That is mine!” Eliza bolted from the bed.
Too slow. He tucked the note into the folds of his coat. “Yes, I know.”
He handed her another scrap of paper, his fingertips brushing her wrist as it changed hands.
Her cheeks flooded with color and she escaped his gaze, reading the words on the page.
Proud beauty, angel amidst foul circumstance.
and know you weep.
What manner of cleric was this?
“I told you, I don’t have faith.”
“And I told you, have faith in me.”
“I don’t understand.”
He lifted his hand, tracing the path a tear made down her cheek.
Eliza had ached for a caring touch, a hug, someone to talk with. She held very still, quivering under his fingertips.
“You don’t have to understand, Lizalamb.”
She blinked. He’d called her Lizalamb, just like her father once had. How odd.
“Of course you are, but you can conquer your fears and all will be well. This I promise. Have faith.”
He untied the string she’d used to tie her hair back and reached into his pocket once more.
Red ribbons, bows that give girlish pleasure. His voice gruff as he gifted them. What a strange, fascinating man.
Eliza nibbled on her bottom lip, the treasures clutched in her hand, red ends trailing from her fist. “Will they let me keep them?”
“Yes, Liza. No one will bother you anymore.”