Jezebel's Daughter HTML version

Chapter I.5
The superintendent opened the cell door with his own hand.
We found ourselves in a narrow, lofty prison, like an apartment in a tower. High up, in
one corner, the grim stone walls were pierced by a grated opening, which let in air and
light. Seated on the floor, in the angle formed by the junction of two walls, we saw the
superintendent's "lucky lunatic" at work, with a truss of loose straw on either side of him.
The slanting rays of light from the high window streamed down on his prematurely gray
hair, and showed us the strange yellow pallor of his complexion, and the youthful
symmetry of his hands, nimbly occupied with their work. A heavy chain held him to the
wall. It was not only fastened round his waist, it also fettered his legs between the knee
and the ankle. At the same time, it was long enough to allow him a range of crippled
movement, within a circle of five or six feet, as well as I could calculate at the time.
Above his head, ready for use if required, hung a small chain evidently intended to
confine his hands at the wrists. Unless I was deceived by his crouching attitude, he was
small in stature. His ragged dress barely covered his emaciated form. In other and happier
days, he must have been a well-made little man; his feet and ankles, like his hands, were
finely and delicately formed. He was so absorbed in his employment that he had
evidently not heard the talking outside his cell. It was only when the door was banged to
by the assistant (who kept behind us, at a sign from the superintendent) that he looked up.
We now saw his large vacantly-patient brown eyes, the haggard outline of his face, and
his nervously sensitive lips. For a moment, he looked from one to the other of the visitors
with a quiet childish curiosity. Then his wandering glances detected the assistant, waiting
behind us with the whip still in his hand.
In an instant the whole expression of the madman's face changed. Ferocious hatred
glittered in his eyes; his lips, suddenly retracted, showed his teeth like the teeth of a wild
beast. My aunt perceived the direction in which he was looking, and altered her position
so as to conceal from him the hateful figure with the whip, and to concentrate his
attention on herself. With startling abruptness, the poor creature's expression changed
once more. His eyes softened, a faint sad smile trembled on his lips. He dropped the
straw which he had been plaiting, and lifted his hands with a gesture of admiration. "The
pretty lady!" he whispered to himself. "Oh, the pretty lady!"
He attempted to crawl out from the wall, as far as his chain would let him. At a sign from
the superintendent he stopped, and sighed bitterly. "I wouldn't hurt the lady for the
world," he said; "I beg your pardon, Mistress, if I have frightened you."
His voice was wonderfully gentle. But there was something strange in his accent--and
there was perhaps a foreign formality in his addressing my aunt as "Mistress."
Englishmen in general would have called her "ma'am."
We men kept our places at a safe distance from his chain. My aunt, with a woman's
impulsive contempt of danger when her compassion is strongly moved, stepped forward
to him. The superintendent caught her by the arm and checked her. "Take care," he said.
"You don't know him as well as we do."