MARY BRYANT RECEIVES JAMES BOSWELL IN NEWGATE
You are too kind, sir. Thanks be to your palming dues, I am snug as a mouse in a churn. Methinks a Newgate bird. Aye, with overjoy I am bewildered. From the darkest netherworld, I have returned. Who, sir? You rid ee see? Don’t know him, sir, but I do know suff’ring. Gnaws away amidships till you drown. Will, God bless him, my husband, died hard. Had no chance to atone. Losing heaven is hell enough for anyone. Swept away by the fevers in Batavia Town. I’m much obliged to you for this pie, sir. ‘Tis hard to hunger in blashy blasts. Days burned, nights you near froze, Draggled like drowning rats, shivered head to toe. Lost, cut adrift in oceans vast. Yes, sir, I’m home now. But what is home? Heaven, I hope. Five year I’ve pitched down in a patch o’ prison, Laced too strait: crampirons, lagships, lumpy lying–in. When they battened down the hatches, you lay choked in darkness, dying, Your throat parched for want of poison. Have you any childer, sir? Then you understand what I’ve endured. My firstborn, Charlotte, named for our transport, was a comebychance. You must not judge us too harsh, sir. Not all us jills were bats ‘n’ bobtails. Beg pardon, sir. Some wants a bit o’ red, others a beau gill. Me? Not handydandy, but pledges of assurance.
Yea, sir, ‘tis a different world from yourn. You raise your eyebrows. I know not your elegant drawingrooms, but I’ve worn black bracelets! And my bosom friends and backbiters are fleas and chatts. I own, though, times were when I was up in the boughs. S’pose I was in amours with Will Bryant. On the hulk Dunkirk I was his canarybird. There’s nothing like a close hug when a ship’s heaving – If you get my meaning. But what was our prospects? I was twixt hawk and buzzard. Nay, he wasn’t guineagold, nor squire of the gusset. Thank’ee, sir, a glass o’ punch is a cheerer. Rough as he ran, though, he was high in the instep. Had brass enough to queer fate. Mayhap His cable parting was for the better. I mean, sir, slanged like a slavey in Edwards’ cage, bilboed and down. An’ if he’d witnessed poor Charlotte gone to Old Davey, He would’ve dived in arter to save her body from the sharks. That pitiful bundle of swaddling I’ll always glim in the darks. In face and spirit, ‘twas Will she favoured. But in truth, sir, I can’t say as he was her father. Emmanuel, certainly. What an old salt To die so young, my codling, yet so long spared. I hid the poor mite in my rags from wet and wind, so much I feared. When shakes and fevers snatched him from my breast, a chiv cut out my heart. Aye, sir, Batavia be the devil’s kitchen. Southering heat, faints and fits, ulcers, tics, deliriums . . . And Edward Edwards, the devil’s own blackguard. A squintyeyed, gruffling grouser with no heart. So eager to parade us in shame to buff his own tarnished name. Above ten thousand mile, the reck’ning, sir? Ten weeks of gashly hell! We boxed the compass by the skin of our teeth. What shakes we should ha’ come to grief?
Every hour tolled our knell.
Nay, sir, with respect, you cannot understand. Though you pluck up my spirits with your entreaties agin’ my harm, We four remaining must hang as returned transports. Can you believe I was not bred a kinchenmort? I cannot thank you enough, good sir. You are too warm.
December 31, 2005January 3, 2006
Who, sir? You rid ee see? Don’t know him, sir, but I do know suff’ring. Gnaws away amidships till you drown. Will, God bless him, my husband...