Marian Halcombe’s journal
So very much happened yesterday that I must take care to record everything in the most precise order. Else I shall lose myself in the confusion of my own thoughts!
It was once again a very hot day, so hot that the speed of our carriage gave no refreshment. The stony streets and walls of the city seemed to hold the heat in like an oven. Laura has never been down to Newgate and the Old Bailey, and she found the walls and gate with its guardian gallows as fearful and intimidating as everyone does. “I have read of this in Mr. Dickens’s essays,” she said. “Oh, Marian—how can Theo bear it?”
“If one only has the hope of leaving, I believe it may be borne,” I said. “It is the thought of being immured forever—of dying and being buried within these walls—that is so crushing.”
“And executed men are buried within,” Laura recalled, shivering. “Give him my love, Marian, and tell him we all pray for him.”
“I shall.” Laura had to wait for me in the courtyard, with its frowning spiked fence. The stone corridors and barred gates were cool, but not refreshing; there was no comfort here. And the hateful barred visitor’s box, with its gap to prevent all contact—it was agony to see him and yet be separated like this. And yet he seemed in somewhat better heart, not living on his nerves as he had before, nor sinking into despair. When I looked only at his dear face—not the crumpled suit or the stony cell or the bars, but only into the intelligent hazel eyes behind the steel spectacles—I could pretend. I could speak with the old easy frankness. “Do you wish to see me, or would you rather not? I fear that my visits make you unhappy.”
“If they make me unhappy, it is only because seeing you makes me want so much more,” he said. “You are the light of my eyes, and I would rather bear that unhappiness than not be in your presence.”
My relief was so great I almost laughed. “I have worried that it is my duty to spare you.”
“And my dread is that your exposure to these horrors will do you, or the one to come, an injury. And . . .” In the brown beard his smile was rueful.
“Tell me, my dearest.”
“Well. It is but vanity, but I dislike being viewed by the woman I love in the posture of a caged and dangerous animal in a zoo. How dearly I would love to have my hair cut and take a bath before you visit.”
This masculine foolishness was utterly adorable, so naturally I flew out at him. “Theo, do you fear to disgust me? Of all the silly things—I have nursed you through typhus, and you were extraordinarily shabbily groomed during that illness. Consider that I am an equally repelling sight—I’m sure I have gained every ounce you have lost and more. There is no disgust, no dread between us, not when we have . . .” I looked down at my fingers, twisting them together as the heat rose into my face. When I dared to glance up through the bars at him I met his gaze and knew our thoughts were one.
All I could do was listen to his breathing, a little heavier and faster than before. After some time he said, softly, “How I wish I could kiss you. Just that, at this point.”
“Soon, my love.” If we did not talk of something else I would cry. I said, “What did Reverend Whistler say? Could he perform a Newgate wedding?”
“It has never been done in his time; he doubts the archbishop will permit it.”
I smothered a sharp comment upon the archbishop’s character, and cast quickly around for a less fraught topic. “Did you have a moment to read through Margaret’s manuscript?”
“The press of my affairs has been considerable,” he said, with smiling irony. “But I did manage to devote my scant leisure to it.”
“Theo, isn’t it thrilling?”
“She was a goddess, was she not?” He was sitting on the little wooden stool that was the cell’s only furniture, and now he leaned back and hooked his clasped hands over one knee, just as he might have done in our own morning room. “I have read it through twice from beginning to end—fortunately the daylight is long at this season. And there are some salient points that may have escaped you in your first swift perusal.”
I was both ruffled at his tone and delighted, that his spirits were so lively. “Such as?”
“The narrative is very scant on motive and the reasons behind what is happening. You read it, my dear. Why did events occur? What was the Blue Hand actually doing?”
“I don’t know,” I said, struck. “It never occurred to me to ask, in the whirlwind of events.”
“Because she simply neglects to tell you. And the excitement of the...