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Erewhon

8. In Prison
And now for the first time my courage completely failed me. It is enough to say that I
was penniless, and a prisoner in a foreign country, where I had no friend, nor any
knowledge of the customs or language of the people. I was at the mercy of men with
whom I had little in common. And yet, engrossed as I was with my extremely difficult
and doubtful position, I could not help feeling deeply interested in the people among
whom I had fallen. What was the meaning of that room full of old machinery which I had
just seen, and of the displeasure with which the magistrate had regarded my watch? The
people had very little machinery now. I had been struck with this over and over again,
though I had not been more than four-and-twenty hours in the country. They were about
as far advanced as Europeans of the twelfth or thirteenth century; certainly not more so.
And yet they must have had at one time the fullest knowledge of our own most recent
inventions. How could it have happened that having been once so far in advance they
were now as much behind us? It was evident that it was not from ignorance. They knew
my watch as a watch when they saw it; and the care with which the broken machines
were preserved and ticketed, proved that they had not lost the recollection of their former
civilisation. The more I thought, the less I could understand it; but at last I concluded that
they must have worked out their mines of coal and iron, till either none were left, or so
few, that the use of these metals was restricted to the very highest nobility. This was the
only solution I could think of; and, though I afterwards found how entirely mistaken it
was, I felt quite sure then that it must be the right one.
I had hardly arrived at this opinion for above four or five minutes, when the door opened,
and a young woman made her appearance with a tray, and a very appetising smell of
dinner. I gazed upon her with admiration as she laid a cloth and set a savoury-looking
dish upon the table. As I beheld her I felt as though my position was already much
ameliorated, for the very sight of her carried great comfort. She was not more than
twenty, rather above the middle height, active and strong, but yet most delicately
featured; her lips were full and sweet; her eyes were of a deep hazel, and fringed with
long and springing eyelashes; her hair was neatly braided from off her forehead; her
complexion was simply exquisite; her figure as robust as was consistent with the most
perfect female beauty, yet not more so; her hands and feet might have served as models
to a sculptor. Having set the stew upon the table, she retired with a glance of pity,
whereon (remembering pity's kinsman) I decided that she should pity me a little more.
She returned with a bottle and a glass, and found me sitting on the bed with my hands
over my face, looking the very picture of abject misery, and, like all pictures, rather
untruthful. As I watched her, through my fingers, out of the room again, I felt sure that
she was exceedingly sorry for me. Her back being turned, I set to work and ate my
dinner, which was excellent.
She returned in about an hour to take away; and there came with her a man who had a
great bunch of keys at his waist, and whose manner convinced me that he was the jailor. I
afterwards found that he was father to the beautiful creature who had brought me my
dinner. I am not a much greater hypocrite than other people, and do what I would, I could
 
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